The refractivity and transparency of the ocular lens is dependent on the stability and solubility of the crystallins in the fiber cells. A number of mutations of lens crystallins have been associated with dominant cataracts in humans and mice. Of particular interest were γB- and γD-crystallin mutants linked to dominant cataracts in mouse models. Although thermodynamically destabilized and aggregation-prone, these mutants were found to have weak affinity to the resident chaperone α-crystallin in vitro To better understand the mechanism of the cataract phenotype, we transgenically expressed different γD-crystallin mutants in the zebrafish lens and observed a range of lens defects that arise primarily from the aggregation of the mutant proteins. Unlike mouse models, a strong correlation was observed between the severity and penetrance of the phenotype and the level of destabilization of the mutant. We interpret this result to reflect the presence of a proteostasis network that can "sense" protein stability. In the more destabilized mutants, the capacity of this network is overwhelmed, leading to the observed increase in phenotypic penetrance. Overexpression of αA-crystallin had no significant effects on the penetrance of lens defects, suggesting that its chaperone capacity is not limiting. Although consistent with the prevailing hypothesis that a chaperone network is required for lens transparency, our results suggest that αA-crystallin may not be efficient to inhibit aggregation of lens γ-crystallin. Furthermore, our work implicates additional inputs/factors in this underlying proteostasis network and demonstrates the utility of zebrafish as a platform to delineate mechanisms of cataract.
© 2016 by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.