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Structural changes in lenses of mice lacking the gap junction protein connexin43.

Gao Y., Spray D.C.

Purpose

To investigate the role of the gap junction protein connexin43 (Cx43), which is predominantly expressed in lens epithelial cells in the control of lens development and organization.

Methods

Newborn mice in which the Cx43 gene was disrupted by homologous recombination were used. Lenses from Cx43 (-/-) mice and wild-type littermates were processed by using 2% glutaraldehyde fixation for light and transmission electron microscopy and by freezing in liquid nitrogen for light and confocal microscopy of immunofluorescence in cryosections.

Results

In wild-type mice, Cx43 was immunolocalized to apical and lateral regions of lens epithelial cells and throughout the cornea, iris, ciliary body, and retina. In the bow, or equatorial, region of the lens, Cx43 disappeared gradually at the margins of the epithelial layer, whereas major intrinsic polypeptide, MP26, and alpha-crystallins were only detected in differentiated fiber cells. Ultrastructural studies revealed that epithelial cells and epithelial fiber cells were connected by large gap junctions. Lens fiber cells were closely apposed to apical boundaries of epithelial cells and apposed to one another along their entire lengths. In Cx43 (-/-) mice, epithelial cells were connected more loosely. The distribution of MP26 and alpha-crystallin in bow region fiber cells in Cx43 (-/-) lenses was not distinguishable from that in the lenses of wild-type mice. Cx46 and Cx50 were also expressed in superficial and cortical fiber cells, with similar distributions in Cx43 (-/-) and wild-type mice. However, organization of appositional membranes between lens fiber cells and between fiber and epithelial cells differed dramatically in the Cx43 (-/-) lens. In contrast to the close apposition of cells in lenses of normal mice, fiber cells in Cx43 (-/-) lenses were largely separated from apical surfaces of epithelial cells, and large vacuolar spaces were apparent between fiber cells, most prominently in deeper cortical regions.

Conclusions

The normal differentiation of lens fiber cells in the bow region in lenses of Cx43 (-/-) mice, evidenced by similar distributions of Cx46, Cx50, MP26, and alpha-crystallin, suggests that the expression of Cx43 is not required for this process. However, these lenses exhibit grossly dilated extracellular spaces and intracellular vacuoles, indicative of early stages of cataract formation. These changes suggest that osmotic balance within the lens is markedly altered in Cx43 (-/-) animals, highlighting the importance of intercellular communication mediated by lens epithelial Cx43 gap junctions in the function of this tissue.

Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 39:1198-1209(1998) [PubMed] [Europe PMC]

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