Gap junctions are selectively associated with interlocking ball-and-sockets but not protrusions in the lens

Sondip K. Biswas, Jai Eun Lee, Lawrence Brako, Jean X. Jiang, Woo Kuen Lo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Purpose: Ball-and-sockets and protrusions are specialized interlocking membrane domains between lens fibers of all species studied. Ball-and-sockets and protrusions are similar in their shape, size, and surface morphology, and are traditionally believed to play a key role in maintaining fiber-to-fiber stability. Here, we evaluate the hypothesis that balland-sockets and protrusions possess important structural and functional differences during fiber cell differentiation and maturation. Methods: Intact lenses of leghorn chickens (E7 days to P62 weeks old) and rhesus monkeys (1.5-20 years old) were studied with SEM, freeze-fracture TEM, freeze-fracture immunogold labeling (FRIL), and filipin cytochemistry for membrane cholesterol detection. Results: SEM showed that ball-and-sockets were distributed along the long and short sides of hexagonal fiber cells, whereas protrusions were located along the cell corners, from superficial to deep cortical regions in both chicken and monkey lenses. Importantly, by freeze-fracture TEM, we discovered the selective association of gap junctions with all ball-and-sockets examined, but not with protrusions, in both species. In the embryonic chicken lens (E18), the abundant distribution of ball-and-socket gap junctions was regularly found in an approximate zone extending at least 300 μm deep from the equatorial surface of the superficial cortical fibers. Many ball-and-socket gap junctions often protruded deeply into neighboring cells. However, in the mature fibers of monkey lenses, several ball-and-sockets exhibited only partial occupancy of gap junctions with disorganized connexons, possibly due to degradation of gap junctions during fiber maturation and aging. FRIL analysis confirmed that both connexin46 (Cx46) and connexin50 (Cx50) antibodies specifically labeled ball-and-socket gap junctions, but not protrusions. Furthermore, filipin cytochemistry revealed that the ball-and-socket gap junctions contained different amounts of cholesterol (i.e., cholesterol-rich versus cholesterol-free) as seen with the filipin-cholesterol-complexes (FCC) in different cortical regions during maturation. In contrast, the protrusions contained consistently high cholesterol amounts (i.e., 402 FCCs/μm2 membrane) which were approximately two times greater than that of the cholesterol-rich gap junctions (i.e., 188 FCCs/μm2 membrane) found in ball-and-sockets. Conclusions: Gap junctions are regularly associated with all ball-and-sockets examined in metabolically active young cortical fibers, but not with protrusions, in both chicken and monkey lenses. Since these unique gap junctions often protrude deeply into neighboring cells to increase membrane surface areas, they may significantly facilitate cell-to-cell communication between young cortical fiber cells. In particular, the large number of ball-and-socket gap junctions found near the equatorial region may effectively facilitate the flow of outward current toward the equatorial surface for internal circulation of ions in the lens. In contrast, a consistent distribution of high concentrations of cholesterol in protrusions would make the protrusion membrane less deformable and would be more suitable for maintaining fiber-to-fiber stability during visual accommodation. Thus, the ball-and-sockets and protrusions are two structurally and functionally distinct membrane domains in the lens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2328-2341
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular vision
StatePublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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