To determine the differences between species in the retention of lens fiber cell nuclei and nuclear fragments in the aging lens cortex and the relationship of nuclear retention to lens opacity. For this purpose old human, monkey, dog, and rat lenses were compared to those of three strains of mouse. We also investigated possible mechanisms leading to nuclear retention.
Fixed specimens of the species referred to above were obtained from immediate on site sacrifice of mice and rats, or from recently fixed lenses of other species, dogs, monkeys, and humans, obtained from collaborators. The retention of undegraded nuclei and nuclear fragments was graded 1–4 from histologic observation. All species lenses were examined microscopically in fixed sections stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) or 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI). Slit lamp observations were made only on the mice and rats before sacrifice and lens fixation. Values of 0 to 4 (clear lens to cataract) were given to degree of opacity. MRNA content in young versus old C57BL/6 mouse lenses was determined by quantitative PCR (qPCR) for DNase II-like acid DNase (DLAD) and other proteins. DLAD protein was determined by immunofluorescence of fixed eye sections.
In old C57BL/6 and DBA mice and, to a lesser degree, in old CBA mice and old Brown Norway (BN) rats lenses were seen to contain a greatly expanded pool of unresolved whole nuclei or fragments of nuclei in differentiating lens fiber cells. This generally correlated with increased slit lamp opacities in these mice. Most old dog lenses also had an increase in retained cortical nuclei, as did a few old humans. However, a second rat strain, BNF1, in which opacity was quite high had no increase in retained nuclei with age nor did any of the old monkeys, indicating that retained nuclei could not be a cause of opacity in these animals. The nuclei and nuclear fragments were located at all levels in the outer cortex extending inward from the lens equator and were observable by the DAPI. These nuclei and nuclear fragments were seen from 12 months onward in all C57BL/6 and DBA/2 mice and to a lesser degree in the CBA, increasing in number and in space occupancy with increasing age. Preliminary results suggest that retention of nuclei in the C57BL/6 mouse is correlated with an age-related loss of DLAD from old lenses.
A very marked apparently light refractive condition caused by retained cortical nuclei and nuclear fragments is present in the lens cortices, increasing with age in the three strains of mice examined and in one of two strains of rats (BN). This condition was also seen in some old dogs and a few old humans. It may be caused by an age-related loss of DLAD, which is essential for nuclear DNA degradation in the lens. However, this condition does not develop in old BNF1 rats, or old monkeys and is only seen sporadically in humans. Thus, it can not be a universal cause for age related lens opacity or cataract presence, although it develops concurrently with opacity in mice. This phenomenon should be considered when using the old mouse as a model for human age-related cataract.