A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that eyes can soon be made immune from cataract before it strikes.
Scientists have found the activation mechanism of the protective protein that saves human eyes from falling prey to disease. The lens of the human eye is made up of a highly concentrated protein solution that imparts the eye its high refractive power. Yet, despite this high protein content the ocular lens must remain clear and transparent.
They have thrown overboard the complex machinery present in all other cells of the human body for building up and breaking down proteins. Instead, lens proteins are created only once in a lifetime - during embryonic development.
The team successfully deciphered the molecular structure of the most important form of this versatile protein - a molecule comprising 24 subunits. Under normal conditions, i.e. when the cell is not exposed to stress, this complex is the most common variant.
However, it is merely an idle form that contributes little to the prevention of clumping in other proteins. It was clear that there must be another molecular switch that triggers the protective protein. It is this trigger mechanism that the team of scientists uncovered now. When a cell is exposed to stress, for instance when subjected to heat, phosphate groups are attached to a specific region of the protein.
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