PURPOSE - To optimize fixation, sectioning, and immunolabeling protocols to map the morphology of the human lens with confocal microscopy.
METHODS - Transparent human lenses were fixed in 0.75% paraformaldehyde for 24 hours, cut in half, and fixed for another 24 hours. Lenses were cryoprotected, sectioned, and labeled with wheat germ agglutinin, aquaporin-0 antibodies, Hoechst, or toluidine blue. Before fixation, some lenses were incubated in an extracellular marker dye, Texas Red-dextran. Labeled sections were imaged with a confocal microscope. Overlapping images were tiled together to form a continuous image montage of fiber cell morphology from the periphery to the lens center.
RESULTS - Fiber cell morphologies were identical with those previously described by electron microscopy and allowed immunohistochemistry to be performed for a representative membrane protein, aquaporin-0. Sectioning protocols enabled the epithelium and outer cortex to be retained, leading to the identification of two unique morphologic zones. In the first zone, an age-independent compaction of nucleated fiber cells and the initiation of extensive membrane remodeling occur. In the second zone, fiber cells retain their interdigitations but lose their nuclei, exhibit a distorted shape, and are less compressed. These zones are followed by the adult nucleus, which is marked by extensive compaction and a restriction of the extracellular space to the diffusion of Texas Red-dextran.
CONCLUSIONS - The authors have developed sectioning and imaging protocols to capture differentiation-dependent changes in fiber cell morphology and protein expression throughout the human lens. Results reveal that differentiating fiber cells undergo extensive membrane remodeling before their internalization into the adult nucleus.