PURPOSE. It is well established that levels of soluble α-crystallin in the lens cytoplasm fall steadily with age, accompanied by a corresponding increase in the amount of membrane-bound α-crystallin. Less well understood, is the mechanism driving this age-dependent membrane association. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of the membrane and its associated proteins and peptides in the binding of α-crystallin.
METHODS. Fibre cell membranes from human and bovine lenses were separated from soluble proteins by centrifugation. Membranes were stripped of associated proteins with successive aqueous, urea and alkaline solutions. Protein constituents of the respective membrane isolates were examined by SDS-PAGE and Western immunoblotting. Recombinant αA- and αB-crystallins were fluorescently-labeled with Alexa350® dye and incubated with the membrane isolates and the binding capacity of membrane for α-crystallin was determined.
RESULTS. The binding capacity of human membranes was consistently higher than that of bovine membranes. Urea- and alkali-treated membranes from the nucleus had similar binding capacities for αA-crystallin, which were significantly higher than both cortical membrane extracts. αB-Crystallin also had a higher affinity for nuclear membrane. However, urea-treated nuclear membrane had three times the binding capacity for αB-crystallin as compared to the alkali-treated nuclear membrane. Modulation of the membrane-crystallin interaction was achieved by the inclusion of an N-terminal peptide of αB-crystallin in the assays, which significantly increased the binding. Remarkably, following extraction with alkali, full length αA- and αB-crystallins were found to remain associated with both bovine and human lens membranes.
CONCLUSIONS. Fiber cell membrane isolated from the lens has an inherent capacity to bind α-crystallin. For αB-crystallin, this binding was found to be proportional to the level of extrinsic membrane proteins in cells isolated from the lens nucleus, indicating these proteins may play a role in the recruitment of αB-crystallin. No such relationship was evident for αA-crystallin in the nucleus, or for cortical membrane binding. Intrinsic lens peptides, which increase in abundance with age, may also function to modulate the interaction between soluble α-crystallin and the membrane. In addition, the tight association between α-crystallin and the lens membrane suggests that the protein may be an intrinsic component of the membrane structure.