Purpose: Insulin and insulin-like growth factors (IGFs) are putative regulators of cell proliferation and differentiation during lens development. Transgenic mice that overexpress IGF-1 in the lens have been previously described. To further understand the ocular functions of this growth factor family, the in vivo effects of insulin expression on lens development were investigated using transgenic mice.
Methods: Expression of insulin receptor (IR) and IGF-1 receptor (IGF-1R) in mouse lens was examined by reverse-transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and in situ hybridization. Transgenic mice that overexpress insulin in the lens were generated using two different promoters: a fiber-cell specific alphaA-crystallin (alphaA) promoter and a modified alphaA-promoter linked to the chicken delta1-crystallin enhancer (called the deltaenalphaA promoter). The deltaenalphaA promoter is active in both lens epithelial and fiber cells. The lens phenotypes were analyzed by histology and immunohistochemistry. Protein expression was examined by western blotting.
Results: Normal mouse lenses express both the insulin receptor (IR) and the IGF-1 receptor (IGF-1R), and their expression is highest at the lens periphery where the germinative and transitional zones are located. In transgenic mice, insulin expression in the lens induced cataract formation. The severity of the cataracts reflected the level of transgene expression, independent of the type of promoter used. In severely affected families, the spherical shape of the lens was altered and the lenses were smaller than normal. Histological analysis showed no evidence of premature differentiation of the anterior epithelial cells. In contrast to the IGF-1 mice, insulin transgenic mice exhibited an anterior shift in the location of the germinative and transitional zones, leading to a reduction of the lens epithelial compartment. Additional alterations included expansion of the lens transitional zone, variable nuclear positioning in the lens bow region, and inhibition of fiber cell denucleation and terminal differentiation.
Conclusions: Elevated intraocular insulin does not enhance proliferation nor induce differentiation of mouse lens epithelial cells. Since an increase in IGF-1 causes a posterior shift of the lens geminative and transitional zones, while an increase in insulin causes an anterior shift of these zones, our results suggest that these two growth factors may work together to control the location of this structural domain during normal lens development. Our data also suggest that increased insulin-signaling activity in the lens can antagonize the endogenous signals that are responsible for fiber cell maturation and terminal differentiation.