Lens cells offer a unique opportunity to study the chemical and molecular basis for the regulation of cell differentiation. Lens cells begin opaque and differentiate into transparent cells and the optical quality of the lens is the result of a highly synchronized, multistep process of cell proliferation , migration, and differentiation. The transparency and refractile properties of the lens are determined by expression of high concentrations of the alpha and beta/gamma crystallin families of proteins. The diversity of the individual crystallins contributes to the complex structural organization of the proteins in the homogeneous transparent cytoplasm. The structural and functional interactions between crystallin proteins that are responsible for the development and maintenance of lens cell transparency and refraction are the primary considerations of our research effort. Quantitative techniques of protein biochemistry, molecular biology, LASER light scattering spectroscopy, and light and electron microscopy are used in these studies. We are developing new methods for analysis of electron and light micrographs of cell and tissue structure using 2-D Fourier methods, fractal analysis and chaos theory.
The principles of lens cell differentiation apply to differentiation of other cells and tissues including red blood cells, skin cells, and muscle fibers.