Summer 2015

Cataract Clues

Molecular miscommunication causes clouding of the eye lens

A cataract, the debilitating clouding of the eye’s lens, may start as a molecular miscommunication. Normally, obsolete or damaged proteins in the eye are removed via biochemical pathways, particular chain reactions among molecules in a cell. In studies with mice, Professor Allen Taylor, Ph.D., director of the Laboratory for Nutrition and Vision at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts, and his team noticed that when one of these pathways falters, calcium flows into the cells of the eye lens, activating another pathway, which causes cataracts.

woman and eye chart


“We discovered that the ubiquitin pathway and the calpain pathway communicate with one another. When their conversation goes awry, cells start a vicious cycle in which proteins are improperly degraded,” Taylor says. “This leads to alterations in proteins and the beginning of the clouding of the lens that defines cataract.”

The newfound relationship between the ubiquitin and calpain pathways provides a fresh avenue for researching drugs and dietary approaches that could prolong the function of these pathways and delay the onset of cataracts, which more than half of Americans will develop before age 80. It could also provide an opportunity to learn more about how abnormal proteins may accumulate in other diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, Taylor notes.

The results were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Top Stories

Shifting America’s Diet

Factions continue to duke it out over what the nation’s dietary guidelines should be, but the scientists have had their say: less meat, less sugar, and please, eat your veggies

Breaking the Veiled Ceiling

Yasmin Altwaijri is blazing a trail for epidemiology and for Saudi women in science

Enough Food for All

The answer to how to feed the growing global population has to include small-scale agriculture, not just factory farms

Feed Your Stem Cells

Is nutrition the future of brain health? Neuroscientist Dennis Steindler says yes

Editor's Picks

Not Supersized, but Still Not Good

A hundred extra calories a day can pile on 10 pounds in a year

Eat, Sleep and Be Healthy

Well-rested adults tend to eat better, study finds

Scared Straight

Inmates take a hard look at their delinquent diets

Me and My Study

Research volunteers embrace life in the cohort

Why So Good?

The science behind yogurt’s aura of health