Contributions of polyol pathway to oxidative stress in diabetic cataract

Alan Y.W. Lee, Stephen S.M. Chung

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There is strong evidence to show that diabetes is associated with increased oxidative stress. However, the source of this oxidative stress remains unclear. Using transgenic mice that overexpress aldose reductase (AR) in their lenses, we found that the flux of glucose through the polyol pathway is the major cause of hyperglycemic oxidative stress in this tissue. The substantial decrease in the level of reduced glutathione (GSH) with concomitant rise in the level of lipid peroxidation product malondialdehyde (MDA) in the lens of transgenic mice, but not in the nontransgenic mice, suggests that glucose autoxidation and nonenzymatic glycation do not contribute significantly to oxidative stress in diabetic lenses. AR reduction of glucose to sorbitol probably contributes to oxidative stress by depleting its cofactor NADPH, which is also required for the regeneration of GSH. Sorbitol dehydrogenase, the second enzyme in the polyol pathway that converts sorbitol to fructose, also contributes to oxidative stress, most likely because depletion of its cofactor NAD+ leads to more glucose being channeled through the polyol pathway. Despite a more than 100% increase of MDA, oxidative stress plays only a minor role in the development of cataract in this acute diabetic cataract model. However, chronic oxidative stress generated by the polyol pathway is likely to be an important contributing factor in the slow-developing diabetic cataract as well as in the development of other diabetic complications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-30
Number of pages8
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Aldose reductase
  • Glutathione
  • Malondialdehyde
  • Sorbitol dehydrogenase
  • Transgenic mice

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