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Low Eye Cholesterol Could Spur Cataracts

Rat study suggests key to the sight-robbing ailment

THURSDAY, Jan. 26, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Low levels of cholesterol levels in the eyes may raise cataract risk, Japanese researchers report.

In their study with rats, a team at Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine concluded that mutations in the lanosterol synthase (Lss) and farnesyl diphosphate farnesyl transferase 1 (Fdft1) genes, both of which are involved in cholesterol production, are linked to cataract development.

Rats that had cataracts and both these gene mutations had reduced cholesterol levels in the eye lens and cerebral cortex, compared with healthy rats.

The study also noted a problem with specialized cells of the eye lens -- called epithelial cells -- that require cholesterol for proper development.

Normally, epithelial cells form a thin, single layer across the eye lens. The cells maintain the transparency of the eye lens. In eyes with cataracts, the epithelial cells fail to mature normally.

The researchers found that the rats with the cataracts and the Lss and Fdft1 mutations had epithelial cells that failed to mature normally. This suggests that a defect in cholesterol production alters proliferation of epithelial cells and contributes to the eye lens becoming opaque.

These findings may prove important for people taking cholesterol-lowering medications or for those with defective cholesterol production, the researchers said.

The study appears in the Jan. 26 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about cataract.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Investigation, news release, Jan. 26, 2006
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