The cells of the eye lens contain the type III intermediate filament protein vimentin, as well as two other intermediate filament proteins, CP49 and filensin. These two proteins appear to be unique to the differentiated lens fibre cell. Immunoblotting and confocal microscopy were used to describe changes which occur in these three intermediate filament proteins and the networks they form during fibre cell differentiation and maturation. The vimentin network was present in both epithelial cells and some fibre cells. Fibre cells were vimentin positive up to a specific point 2–3 mm in from the lens capsule where the vimentin signal was drastically reduced. The CP49/filensin network was not present in the undifferentiated epithelial cells but emerged in the differentiating fibre cells. This latter network exhibited a principally plasma membrane localization in younger fibre cells but became more cytoplasmic in older fibre cells. This change also occurred at a distinct point in fibre cell differentiation, much earlier than the observed loss of the vimentin network. The subcellular changes in the distributions of these cytoskeletal networks were correlated to the loss of the fibre cell nucleus, another feature of fibre cell differentiation. No correlation was found to changes in the vimentin network but nuclear loss did coincide with changes in the CP49/filensin network. Concomitant with nuclear pyknosis, there were also changes in the nuclear lamina as well as infringement of the nuclear compartment by CP49, as shown by confocal microscopy. This study demonstrates vimentin and the CP49/filensin network to be independent in the lens but both networks undergo dramatic changes in subcellular distribution during the differentiation/maturation of the fibre cell. Only changes in the CP49/filensin network can be correlated to nuclear loss. Thus in the lens, unlike mammalian erythropoiesis which is also characterized by nuclear loss, the vimentin network does not appear linked to nuclear retention.

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