Redox regulation in the lens

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2003 Sep;22(5):657-82. doi: 10.1016/s1350-9462(03)00050-8.


The high content of glutathione (GSH) in the lens is believed to protect thiols in structural proteins and enzymes for proper biological functions. The lens has both biosynthetic and regenerating systems for GSH to maintain its large pool size. However, ageing lenses or lenses under oxidative stress show an extensively diminished size of GSH pool with some protein thiols being S-thiolated by oxidized non-protein thiols to form protein-thiol mixed disulfides, either as protein-S-S-glutathione (PSSG) or protein-S-S-cysteine (PSSC) or protein-S-S-gamma-glutamylcysteine. It was shown in an H(2)O(2)-induced cataract model that PSSG formation precedes a cascade of events before cataract formation, starting with protein disulfide crosslinks, protein solubility loss and high molecular weight aggregation. Furthermore, this early oxidative damage in protein thiols can be spontaneously reversed in H(2)O(2) pretreated lenses if the oxidant is removed in time. This dethiolation process appears to have mediated through a redox-regulating enzyme, thioltransferase (TTase), which is ubiquitously present in microbial, plant and animal tissues, including the lens. The GSH-dependent, low molecular weight (11.8 kDa) cytosolic enzyme plays an important role in oxidative defense and can modulate key metabolic enzymes in the glycolytic pathway. The enzyme repairs oxidatively damaged proteins/enzymes through its unique catalytic site with a vicinal cysteine moiety, which can specifically dethiolate protein-S-S-glutathione and restore protein free SH groups for proper enzymatic or protein functions. Most importantly, it has been demonstrated that thioltransferase has a remarkable resistance to oxidation (H(2)O(2)) in cultured human and rabbit lens epithelial cells under oxidative stress conditions when other oxidation defense systems of GSH peroxidase and GSH reductase are severely inactivated. A second repair enzyme, thioredoxin (TRx), which is NADPH-dependent, is widely found in many lower and higher life forms of life. It can dethiolate protein disulfides and thus is an extremely important regulator for redox homeostasis in the cells. Thioredoxin has been recently found in the lens and has been shown to participate in the repair process of oxidatively damaged lens proteins/enzymes. These two enzymes may work synergistically to regulate and repair thiols in lens proteins and enzymes, keeping a balanced redox potential to maintain the function of the lens.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Crystallins / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Glutathione Peroxidase / metabolism
  • Glutathione Reductase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism
  • Thioredoxins / metabolism*


  • Crystallins
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Thioredoxins
  • Glutathione Peroxidase
  • Glutathione Reductase
  • Glutathione