A long-term system of organ culture for bovine lenses was used to investigate the effect of osmotic stress on lens opacification and crystallin loss. Lenses were pre-incubated in control medium containing L-[U-14C]tyrosine so that labelled crystallins were produced. The fate of these crystallins was studied in relation to two forms of osmotic stress. The addition of either ouabain or EGTA to the medium induced severe osmotic swelling and disturbance of the lens monovalent cation balance, but only the former treatment was followed by an increase in lens calcium. The changes due to osmotic stress were accompanied by loss of transparency and protein only in the lenses with increased calcium. Both opacification and increased calcium were found largely to be confined to the outer cortical fibres. Protein loss increased with time as lens calcium continued to increase. The protein recovered from the incubation medium was characterized by gel filtration and immunological techniques. The first protein detected was beta L-crystallin, and this formed the major part of the lost protein throughout, although alpha- and gamma-crystallins were detected at a later stage. Increased calcium also resulted in a change in the susceptibility of the crystallins to aggregation, since there was an increase in [14C]tyrosine incorporated into the lens high-molecular-weight (HM) fraction after exposure to ouabain, but not after exposure to EGTA. The relevance of these findings to human cataract is discussed.