Using light and electron-microscopic immunolocalization techniques, and gel electrophoresis combined with immunoblotting, we have examined the expression of cytoskeletal proteins in normal human fetal, child and adult lenses, in human anterior capsular cataract and in bovine lens cells in vivo and in vitro. In this report, we focus our observations on the pattern of actin-isoform expression during normal and pathological situations in vivo and culture conditions. We have noted that cells of developing and mature human lenses as well as bovine lens cells in situ contain only beta- and gamma-actins. In contrast, alpha-smooth muscle (alpha-sm) actin, an isoform typical of smooth muscle differentiation, was demonstrated in bovine lens cells at different times of culture. Moreover, the multilayered cells observed in the subcapsular zone of human anterior capsular cataract were characterized by the presence of alpha-sm actin. Thus, extensive changes in actin-isoform expression take place in lens cells growing in culture and may also occur during cataractogenesis. The biological meaning of the appearance of a marker of myoid differentiation in the ectodermally derived lens-forming cells is discussed.