Lens epithelium: a primary target of UVB irradiation

Exp Eye Res. 1994 Nov;59(5):557-64. doi: 10.1006/exer.1994.1141.


Cultured rabbit lenses and cultured rabbit lens epithelial cells were irradiated with UV to correlate morphological changes in the epithelium with physiological changes in the whole lens during the development of UV-induced cataract. Two UV spectral ranges were utilized; one spanned 290 to 340 nm and was designated near-UV, the other was a narrower, pure UVB region: 303 to 313 nm, designated UVB. Irradiation with either spectrum of the anterior surface of whole lenses caused opacification and a dose-dependent loss of ion homeostasis as measured by Na+ and Ca2+ concentrations in whole lenses. It was determined that cation pump activity, assessed by 86Rb uptake, continued to decline steadily during culture after UV irradiation. Whole mount preparations of the epithelial cell layer of UVB-irradiated lenses revealed morphological changes within 2 hr of irradiation and cell death after 20 hr. Following posterior irradiation of whole lenses, the epithelial cells remained viable and lenses remained transparent during 3 days of culture, presumably because UV photons did not reach the epithelium. Absorption of UV photons by posterior fiber cell membranes and proteins did not cause opacification. To learn more about the epithelial damage, cultured rabbit lens epithelial cells were irradiated, UVB treatment retarded growth over a 7-day period in cultured cells. The surviving cells at day 7 were abnormal in appearance and the potassium concentration was approximately 50% less than controls, a finding which may explain the previously reported reduction in protein synthesis by UVB irradiation. Collectively, the data suggest that UV cataract is initiated by damage to the epithelium, including a change in membrane permeability leading to loss of ion homeostasis in the lens.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cataract / etiology
  • Cataract / metabolism
  • Cataract / pathology
  • Cell Death
  • Cell Division
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane / pathology
  • Cell Membrane / radiation effects
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / radiation effects
  • Cell Survival
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Epithelial Cells / metabolism
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / radiation effects*
  • Ion Transport / radiation effects
  • Lens, Crystalline / metabolism
  • Lens, Crystalline / pathology
  • Lens, Crystalline / radiation effects*
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Rabbits
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / etiology
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / metabolism
  • Radiation Injuries, Experimental / pathology
  • Rubidium Radioisotopes / metabolism
  • Sodium / metabolism
  • Ultraviolet Rays


  • Rubidium Radioisotopes
  • Sodium
  • Calcium