Studies using various MRI techniques have shown that a water-protein concentration gradient exists in the ocular lens. Because this concentration is higher in the core relative to the lens periphery, a gradient in refractive index is established in the lens. To investigate how the water-protein concentration profile is maintained, bovine lenses were incubated in different solutions, and changes in water-protein concentration ratio monitored using proton density weighted (PD-weighted) imaging in the absence and presence of heavy water (D(2)O). Lenses incubated in artificial aqueous humor (AAH) maintained the steady state water-protein concentration gradient, but incubating lenses in high extracellular potassium (KCl-AAH) or low temperature (Low T-AAH) caused a collapse of the gradient due to a rise in water content in the core of the lens. To visualize water fluxes, lenses were incubated in D(2)O, which acts as a contrast agent. Incubation in KCl-AAH and low T-AAH dramatically slowed the movement of D(2)O into the core but did not affect the movement of D(2)O into the outer cortex. D(2)O seemed to preferentially enter the lens cortex at the anterior and posterior poles before moving circumferentially toward the equatorial regions. This directionality of D(2)O influx into the lens cortex was abolished by incubating lenses in high KCl-AAH or low T-AAH, and resulted in homogenous influx of D(2)O into the outer cortex. Taken together, our results show that the water-protein concentration ratio is actively maintained in the core of the lens and that water fluxes preferentially enter the lens at the poles.