Expression of alphasmooth muscle actin in lens epithelia from human donors and cataract patients

Exp Eye Res. 2005 Nov;81(5):539-50. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2005.03.012. Epub 2005 Jun 1.


In order to re-evaluate functional implications of alphasmooth muscle actin (alphaSMA) expression in lens epithelial cells (LECs), we assessed its presence in donor lenses without visible opacities (DON), lenses with mature cataract (CAT), and cataractous lenses with posterior subcapsular opacities (PSO) or anterior subcapsular fibrosis (ASF). The levels of alphaSMA and transforming growth factor-beta2 (TGFbeta2) mRNAs were measured by classical and real-time PCR. Expression and structural organisation of alphaSMA protein and beta-catenin were monitored by Western blotting and confocal microscopy. All DON analysed contained measurable amounts of alphaSMA mRNA. In CAT without and with PSO, mRNA expression was increased and, again more than doubled in ASF. TGFbeta2 mRNA expression varied widely between the individual samples but was slightly increased in ASF. No correlation existed between alphaSMA or TGFbeta2 expression and the age of the donors in any of the lens categories. Confocal microscopy revealed that, in DON and CAT, alphaSMA was preferentially expressed in a simple granular pattern in single or small clusters of LECs within a normally shaped cobblestone epithelium. Locally, the granules were merged into short stretches at the cell margin. In CAT, a few abnormally shaped cells contained polygonal alphaSMA structures and short stress fibres. In CAT with PSO and ASF, polygons and stress fibre bundles predominated in spindle-shaped cells. Expression patterns of different complexity were often present in the same epithelium. Apical polygons and basal stress fibres were detected within the same cell and may reflect instability of the interface between epithelium and cortical fibres and changes in adhesion to the capsule, respectively. High levels of betacatenin mRNA and protein were present in all lens types. However, with increasing complexity of alphaSMA organisation, betacatenin staining disappeared from the cell margin and basal infoldings and was shifted towards the cytoplasm and nucleus. The presence of alphaSMA in DON, the absence of any correlation between mRNA level and age, and the modest increase in complexity of alphaSMA-containing structures in CAT argue against an inevitable link between alphaSMA expression and the development of age-related cataract. Low levels of alphaSMA expression may reflect repair of normal wear and tear. In pathologic situations such as PSO and ASF, persisting stimulation and additional incentives may induce increased alphaSMA expression and more elaborate patterning, eventually leading to completion of EMT.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actins / analysis
  • Actins / genetics*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Base Sequence
  • Blotting, Western
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cataract / metabolism*
  • Cataract / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / chemistry*
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Fibrosis
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Gene Expression
  • Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenases / genetics
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / chemistry*
  • Lens, Crystalline / pathology
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Middle Aged
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / genetics
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta2
  • beta Catenin / genetics


  • Actins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • TGFB2 protein, human
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta2
  • beta Catenin
  • Glyceraldehyde-3-Phosphate Dehydrogenases