Proteins protect against cataracts
Wednesday, November 6 2013 | 00 h 00 min | News
Researchers from Germany recently discovered the activation mechanism of one of the proteins that protect the eye against cataracts, laying the foundation for the development of new therapies.
The refractive power of the human eye depends on a highly concentrated protein solution. Two proteins in particular, ɑA-cristallin and ɑB-cristallin, ensure that other proteins do not turn into clumps over time. When this protective mechanism fails, the patient develops a cataract.
“The great challenge in the analysis of these two crystallin types lies in their inordinate variety,” explains Johannes Buchner, professor for biotechnology at the Technical University of Munich. “These proteins exist as a mixture of very different forms, each comprising a variable number of subunits. This makes it very difficult to distinguish the individual structures from one to the other.”
In 2009, the German team had deciphered part of ɑB-cristallin, a molecule comprising 24 subunits, but found that in its idle form, it contributes little to the protection of the eye. It needed a trigger mechanism to activate it. This mechanism has now been uncovered.
These new insights provide a solid foundation for developing new therapeutic approaches. For instance, medication to treat cataracts could activate ɑB-cristallin, which would be in charge of clearing up cloudy lenses. This could eventually replace the need for surgery.