Aging lens epithelium is susceptible to ferroptosis

Zongbo Wei, Caili Hao, Jingru Huangfu, Ramkumar Srinivasagan, Xiang Zhang, Xingjun Fan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Age-related cataracts (ARC) are the primary cause of blindness worldwide, and oxidative stress is considered the central pathogenesis of age-related cataractogenesis. Interestingly, ample evidence suggests that there is no remarkable apoptosis present in aged and cataractous human lenses despite the profound disruption of redox homeostasis, raising an essential question regarding the existence of other cell death mechanisms. Here we sought to explore the lens epithelial cell's (LEC) susceptibility to ferroptosis after documentation has concluded that aged and cataractous human lenses manifest with increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation, elevated lipid peroxidation, and accumulative intracellular redox-active iron, constituting the three hallmarks of ferroptosis during aging and cataractogenesis. Here we show that very low concentrations of system Xc- inhibitor Erastin (0.5 μM) and glutathione peroxidase 4 (GPX4) inhibitor RSL3 (0.1 μM) can drastically induce human LEC (FHL124) ferroptosis in vitro and mouse lens epithelium ferroptosis ex vivo. Depletion of intracellular glutathione (GSH) in human LECs and mouse lens epithelium significantly sensitizes ferroptosis, particularly under RSL3 challenge. Intriguingly, both human LECs and the mouse lens epithelium demonstrate an age-related sensitization of ferroptosis. Transcriptome analysis indicates that clusters of genes are up-or down-regulated in aged LECs, impacting cellular redox and iron homeostases, such as downregulation of both cystine/glutamate antiporter subunits SLC7A11 and SLC3A2 and iron exporter ferroportin (SLC40A1). Here, for the first time, we are suggesting that LECs are highly susceptible to ferroptosis. Moreover, aged and cataractous human lenses may possess more pro-ferroptotic criteria than any other organ in the human body.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)94-108
Number of pages15
JournalFree Radical Biology and Medicine
StatePublished - May 1 2021


  • Age-related cataract
  • Aging
  • Cataractogenesis
  • Ferroptosis
  • Glutathione homeostasis
  • Iron homeostasis
  • Lipid peroxidation
  • Reactive oxygen species (ROS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology (medical)


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