Lens fiber cell membranes contain aquaporin-0 (AQP0), which constitutes approximately 50% of the total fiber cell membrane proteins and has a dual function as a water channel protein and an adhesion molecule. Fiber cell membranes also develop an elaborate interlocking system that is required for maintaining structural order, stability, and lens transparency. Herein, we used an AQP0-deficient mouse model to investigate an unconventional adhesion role of AQP0 in maintaining a normal structure of lens interlocking protrusions.
The loss of AQP0 in AQP0−/− lens fibers was verified by Western blot and immunofluorescence analyses. Changes in membrane surface structures of wild-type and AQP0−/− lenses at age 3 to 12 weeks were examined with scanning electron microscopy. Preferential distribution of AQP0 in wild-type fiber cell membranes was analyzed with immunofluorescence and immunogold labeling using freeze-fracturing transmission electron microscopy.
Interlocking protrusions in young differentiating fiber cells developed normally but showed minor abnormalities at approximately 50 μm deep in the absence of AQP0 in all ages studied. Strikingly, protrusions in maturing fiber cells specifically underwent uncontrolled elongation, deformation, and fragmentation, while cells still retained their overall shape. Later in the process, these changes eventually resulted in fiber cell separation, breakdown, and cataract formation in the lens core. Immunolabeling at the light microscopy and transmission electron microscopy levels demonstrated that AQP0 was particularly enriched in interlocking protrusions in wild-type lenses.
This study suggests that AQP0 exerts its primary adhesion or suppression role specifically to maintain the normal structure of interlocking protrusions that is critical to the integrity and transparency of the lens.
This study provides a novel finding that the water channel protein aquaporin-0 (AQP0) has a primary role in maintaining a normal structure of an interlocking system that is essential for maintaining structural order, stability, and transparency of the eye lens.