Crystallin gene expression: Insights from studies of transcriptional bursting

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8 Scopus citations


Cellular differentiation is marked by temporally and spatially regulated gene expression. The ocular lens is one of the most powerful mammalian model system since it is composed from only two cell subtypes, called lens epithelial and fiber cells. Lens epithelial cells differentiate into fiber cells through a series of spatially and temporally orchestrated processes, including massive production of crystallins, cellular elongation and the coordinated degradation of nuclei and other organelles. Studies of transcriptional and posttranscriptional gene regulatory mechanisms in lens provide a wide range of opportunities to understand global molecular mechanisms of gene expression as steady-state levels of crystallin mRNAs reach very high levels comparable to globin genes in erythrocytes. Importantly, dysregulation of crystallin gene expression results in lens structural abnormalities and cataracts. The mRNA life cycle is comprised of multiple stages, including transcription, splicing, nuclear export into cytoplasm, stabilization, localization, translation and ultimate decay. In recent years, development of modern mRNA detection methods with single molecule and single cell resolution enabled transformative studies to visualize the mRNA life cycle to generate novel insights into the sequential regulatory mechanisms of gene expression during embryogenesis. This review is focused on recent major advancements in studies of transcriptional bursting in differentiating lens fiber cells, analysis of nascent mRNA expression from bi-directional promoters, transient nuclear accumulation of specific mRNAs, condensation of chromatin prior lens fiber cell denucleation, and outlines future studies to probe the interactions of individual mRNAs with specific RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) in the cytoplasm and regulation of translation and mRNA decay.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108564
JournalExperimental Eye Research
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • Crystallin
  • Cytoplasm
  • Denucleation
  • Differentiation
  • Gene expression
  • Lens
  • Nucleus
  • RNA-Binding proteins
  • Transcriptional bursting
  • mRNA life cycle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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