Study Discovers That Protein Imbalance May Cause Cataracts

Cataracts are a common eye disease, and while researchers have yet to fully understand how the disease works, plenty of research has been done on this ailment. Recently, a group of researchers at the Technical University of Munich (“TUM”) found that the composition of the protein solution was a factor in the disease. The researchers’ findings go against the field’s popular opinion.

TUM’s chair of biotechnology Prof. Johannes Buchner explained that the cells in an eye lens are comprised of a protein solution that is highly concentrated and normally clear. However, he continued, a protein imbalance may cause the proteins to lump together, which makes the lens cloudy, thus resulting in the condition known as cataracts.

This is not the only cause of the lens becoming cloudy, as the protein found in the lens is usually developed in the embryo and isn’t replaced. This means that damage that has accumulated over the years may also be causing clouding of the lens. This explains why cataracts primarily occur in older individuals.

However, some people have a genetic predisposition to cataracts, which causes mutations in proteins in their eye lens. In such cases, cataracts usually are present at birth or appear during childhood.

During their study, the researchers examined strains of mice that were impacted by hereditary cataracts. They partnered up with a researcher from Jochen Graw’s lab, an eye lens expert and a former professor at the Helmholtz Zentrum München Institute of Development Genetics.

Until now, the prevailing opinion had stated that only the defective eye proteins reacted with one another, thus forming clumps. However, Buchner’s group of researchers has demonstrated that in the mice with hereditary cataracts, this did not happen. Buchner explained that instead they found that the unstable, mutated proteins in the lens had been eliminated immediately, and it was the healthy proteins in the lens that clumped together.

Their model, which was based off of these insights, states that the balance between different proteins or their ratios to each other is crucial because, when either of these components goes missing, the remaining components join to form clumps. Additionally, Buchner noted that while a lot of research had been conducted to understand what brought about cataracts, never had any study carried out such an extensive study of lenses in mice, which compared mutants and wild populations.

He asserted that these new discoveries were vital in the search for new cataract treatments, with the current and most common treatment method being surgery.

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