Aging of the eye lens represents the life-long accumulation of damage. Factors responsible for age-related cataract are unknown because medical evaluations of aged populations demonstrate a wide range of systemic diseases and medical disorders. There are some main suspected factors, which may contribute to accumulated age-related damage in the eye lens. (1) Diseases, such as diabetes, substantially increase the probability of cataract formation in the age group from 40 to 49, and double or triple this probability for ages 50 to 69. (2) Drugs, including systemic medications such as steroids. (3) Environmental factors, such as UV radiation, heat and electromagnetic radiation. Our study represents an effort to determine the effects of suspected cataractogenic factors on the eye lens. The experiments are performed using a unique long-term lens organ culture system of bovine lenses. In our system it is possible to give controlled amounts of insult and monitor changes in lens optical quality throughout the culture period of 8-15 days. The optical properties, monitored in association with biochemical analysis of lens epithelium, cortex and nuclear samples, help in determining the mechanisms of cataract formation. The present study investigates mechanisms by which UV-A radiation at 365 nm causes damage to the lens. It is believed that solar radiation is one of the major environmental factors involved in lens cataractogenesis. Bovine lenses were placed in our special culture cells for pre-incubation of 24 hr followed by irradiation of 29 or 33 J cm(-2). The lenses were maintained in the cells during irradiation. After irradiation, lens optical quality was monitored throughout the culture period and lens epithelium was taken for enzyme analysis. Using the culture system we learned that: (a) young lenses (less than one-year-old) are less sensitive to UV radiation than 3-year-old lenses; (b) the lenses have the ability to recover in organ culture conditions; (c) applying the insult in one step results in less damage than dividing the same insult in 4 steps with 24 hr interval between each one; and (d) the damage from UV is greater if the intervals between each irradiation stage are insufficient to permit full recovery.