Metabolism and function of glutathione in the lens

Ciba Found Symp. 1984:106:65-87. doi: 10.1002/9780470720875.ch5.


The mammalian lens contains an unusually high concentration of glutathione (GSH), the highest level being in the epithelium. GSH is present largely in the reduced state. The high concentration of GSH in a normal lens and the decreased concentration in most types of cataracts have led to many hypotheses on its role in cataract formation. These hypotheses are considered in the light of current evidence. GSH is synthesized and degraded in the lens. Both processes require ATP, derived largely from glycolysis. Carbohydrate metabolism is also involved in the maintenance of GSH in the reduced state. There is a direct link between the rate of formation of oxidized glutathione (GSSG) and the stimulation of the hexose monophosphate shunt through the generation of NADPH. One possible function of GSH in the lens is to maintain the thiol (SH) groups of proteins in the reduced state, thus preventing formation of high molecular weight (HMW) protein aggregates. The formation of HMW proteins in X-ray-induced cataracts through disulphide bond formation and the involvement of SH oxidation in HMW proteins isolated from human cataractous lenses suggest a role for GSH in protecting protein SH groups. GSH in the lens may also protect critical SH groups involved in regulating cation transport and permeability. Studies with mammalian lenses indicate that lowering the lens GSH concentration leads to increased permeability to cations and inactivation of Na+,K+-ATPase. A consequence of the changes in ion distribution is the inhibition of protein synthesis, which may explain the cessation of growth in cataractous lenses. GSH may also protect against oxidative damage to the lens. GSH metabolism is intimately involved in detoxification of H2O2, normally present in the aqueous humour. Lenses with impaired shunt activity or inhibited glutathione reductase are more susceptible to oxidative damage by peroxide. This may contribute to the formation of cataract.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport, Active / radiation effects
  • Cataract / metabolism*
  • Crystallins / metabolism*
  • Glutathione / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / metabolism
  • Inactivation, Metabolic
  • Lens, Crystalline / metabolism
  • Lens, Crystalline / radiation effects
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Rabbits
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / metabolism


  • Crystallins
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Glutathione