Age-dependent changes in the distribution and concentration of human lens cholesterol and phospholipids

Biochim Biophys Acta. 1987 Jan 13;917(1):112-20. doi: 10.1016/0005-2760(87)90291-8.


Analyses of total lipid in individual lenses 1.8-63 years of age indicate that both the cholesterol and the phospholipid concentrations have reached a high level of 10 and 14 micrograms/mg lens dry weight, respectively, after the first ten years of growth. Thereafter, the rate of phospholipid accumulation was greatly reduced to a value of 0.05 microgram/mg per year while that of cholesterol reduced to 0.19. Analyses of the distribution of lipid in successive lens fiber layers indicate that both the cholesterol and phospholipid levels increase in the entire lens between the age of 1.8 and 9 years. Older lenses showed a continuous increase in the accumulation of cholesterol in the deep cortical fibers, while little or no increase in phospholipid concentration was observed. These results indicate that the accumulation of lipids is greater than that of lens dry mass (protein) during the first decade of lens growth. Since more than 90% of lenticular lipids are associated with fiber cell membranes, these data suggest a gradual change in the differentiation of the newly formed secondary fibers from the epithelium during this period. Analyses of the phospholipid composition of the successive fiber fractions indicate that the major phospholipids of phosphatidyl ethanolamine (PE), phosphatidylserine (PS) and sphingomyelin maintained a uniform distribution in the 1.8- and 5-year-old lenses. While no change was observed with the cortical fibers, older lenses showed a gradual loss of PE and PS in the nuclear fiber up to 63 years of age. By the late teen years, nuclear PS can no longer be detected, while high levels of PE are maintained in lens nucleus. The disappearance of nuclear PE begins in the teen years and is completed by the age of 40. The decrease in PE and PS resulted in a continuous increase in the cholesterol/phospholipid ratio, a measure of membrane rigidity in the nuclear fiber in lenses 20 years of age and older. This decrease is also responsible for the exceedingly high rigidity of the nuclear fibers of lenses 60 years of age and older. Possible lamellar cholesterol organization in the lens fiber membrane is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aging
  • Cholesterol / analysis*
  • Chromatography, Thin Layer
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / analysis
  • Lens, Crystalline / growth & development*
  • Middle Aged
  • Phospholipids / analysis*


  • Fatty Acids
  • Phospholipids
  • Cholesterol