The purpose of this study was to determine if high ascorbate of the human aqueous protects the lens against oxidative stress. Previous studies with the rat lens have been inconclusive because of its fortification with aldose reductase (AR), an important antioxidant. The human lens is deficient in this activity. These studies were hence done with the mouse lens, a species deficient in this enzyme. The reactive oxygen species (ROS)-induced physiological damage to the tissue was assessed in organ culture, by measuring its ability to actively transport 86Rb(+) ions, in the absence and presence of ascorbate. In addition, the status of tissue metabolism and its antioxidant reserve were assessed by quantitating ATP and glutathione (GSH). As expected, ROS decreased the membrane transport activity as well as the levels of ATP and GSH. Ascorbate minimized these toxic effects substantially. The presence of high ascorbate, therefore, appears highly beneficial in protecting the lens against oxidative damage and cataract formation, despite a deficiency of AR. The findings therefore appear to be significant from the point of view of using this nutrient for delaying the onset of cataract development in human beings, therapeutically as well as nutritionally.