The R116C mutation in alpha A-crystallin diminishes its protective ability against stress-induced lens epithelial cell apoptosis

J Biol Chem. 2002 Mar 22;277(12):10178-86. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M109211200. Epub 2001 Dec 27.


alphaA-crystallin is a small heat-shock protein expressed preferentially in the lens and is detected during the early stages of lens development. Recent work indicates that the expression of alphaA-crystallin enhances lens epithelial cell growth and resistance to stress conditions. Mutation of the arginine 116 residue to cysteine (R116C) in alphaA-crystallin has been associated with congenital cataracts in humans. However, the physiological consequences of this mutation have not been analyzed in lens epithelial cells. In the present study, we expressed wild type or R116C alphaA-crystallin in the human lens epithelial cell line HLE B-3. Immunofluorescence and confocal microscopy indicated that both wild type and R116C alphaA-crystallin were distributed mainly in the cytoplasm of lens epithelial cells. Size-exclusion chromatography indicated that the size of the alphaA-crystallin aggregate in lens epithelial cells increased from 500 to 600 kDa for the wild type protein to >2 MDa in the R116C mutant. When cells were exposed to physiological levels of UVA radiation, wild type alphaA-crystallin protected cells from apoptotic death as shown by annexin labeling and flow cytometric analysis, whereas the R116C mutant had a 4- to 10-fold lower protective ability. UVA-irradiated cells expressing the wild type protein had very low TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling) staining, whereas cells expressing R116C mutant had a high level of TUNEL staining. F-actin was protected in UVA-treated cells expressing the wild type alphaA-crystallin but was either clumped around the apoptotic cells or was absent in apoptotic cells in cultures expressing the R116C mutant. Structural changes caused by the R116C mutation could be responsible for the reduced ability of the mutant to protect cells from stress. Our study shows that comparing the stress-induced apoptotic cell death is an effective way to compare the protective abilities of wild type and mutant alphaA-crystallin. We propose that the diminished protective ability of the R116C mutant in lens epithelial cells may contribute to the pathogenesis of cataract.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Blotting, Western
  • Chromatography
  • Chromatography, Gel
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Crystallins / genetics*
  • Crystallins / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / radiation effects
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Lens, Crystalline / metabolism*
  • Lens, Crystalline / pathology
  • Lens, Crystalline / radiation effects
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Mutation*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Transfection
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Crystallins