January 25, 2018

A cataract-heart connection

Studies of alpha-B crystallin in zebrafish could ultimately lead to improved treatment for cataracts and heart disease.

by Meredith Jackson

If you’ve kept up with science-related news lately, then you’ve probably heard about CRISPR-Cas9, the latest and greatest new tool for gene editing.

Sanjay Mishra, Shu-Yu Wu, Ph.D., and colleagues led by Hassane Mchaourab, Ph.D., recently reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry the use of CRISPR editing in zebrafish to specifically delete alpha-B crystallin genes, which play roles in maintaining lens transparency in the eye and heart muscle integrity. It was the first time both variants of these genes have been deleted in vertebrates without altering other genes.

In the eye, the Vanderbilt researchers showed that both variants were important for lens function but they discovered that while alpha-B is not critical for heart development, it is important for the well-being of the heart in stress. When they exposed zebrafish to stressful conditions, fish with the deleted genes developed heart problems more often than did normal fish.

Increased understanding of alpha-B crystallin ultimately could help improve treatment of cataracts and heart disease.

The research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants EY012018, EY008126 and RR024975.

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