A cataract is caused due to deterioration in the highly ordered assembly of crystallin proteins in the eye lens. Usually, the ordered structure keeps lenses clear and able to efficiently transmit light. However, crystallins slowly break down during aging, causing the lens to become opaque and scatter light instead. Besides age, other risk factors such as diabetes, ultraviolet radiation, or drugs like corticosteroids can also contribute to cataracts. Like cataracts themselves, the exact mechanisms governing their formation are still a mystery, but K. Krishna Sharma and colleagues from the University of Missouri School of Medicine, Columbia found that tiny bits of crystallin contribute to this process to a great extent.
The team compared a range of human donor lenses and found that aged and cataract lenses accumulated about four times as many short.