Lens (anatomy) - Development and Growth

Development and Growth

Development of the human lens begins at the 4 mm embryonic stage. Unlike the rest of the eye, which is derived mostly from the neural ectoderm, the lens is derived from the surface ectoderm. The first stage of lens differentiation takes place when the optic vesicle, which is formed from outpocketings in the neural ectoderm, comes in proximity to the surface ectoderm. The optic vesicle induces nearby surface ectoderm to form the lens placode. At the 4 mm stage, the lens placode is a single monolayer of columnar cells.

As development progresses, the lens placode begins to deepen and invaginate. As the placode continues to deepen, the opening to the surface ectoderm constricts and the lens cells forms a structure known as the lens vesicle. By the 10 mm stage, the lens vesicle has completely separated from the surface ectoderm.

After the 10 mm stage, signals from the developing neural retina induces the cells closest to the posterior end of the lens vesicle begin to elongate toward the anterior end of the vesicle. These signals also induce the synthesis of crystallins. These elongating cells eventually fill in the lumen of the vesicle to form the primary fibers, which become the embryonic nucleus in the mature lens. The cells of the anterior portion of the lens vesicle give rise to the lens epithelium.

Additional secondary fibers are derived from lens epithelial cells located toward the equatorial region of the lens. These cells lengthen anteriorly and posteriorly to encircle the primary fibers. The new fibers grow longer than those of the primary layer, but as the lens gets larger, the ends of the newer fibers cannot reach the posterior or anterior poles of the lens. The lens fibers that do not reach the poles form tight, interdigitating seams with neighboring fibers. These seams are readily visible and are termed sutures. The suture patterns become more complex as more layers of lens fibers are added to the outer portion of the lens.

The lens continues to grow after birth, with the new secondary fibers being added as outer layers. New lens fibers are generated from the equatorial cells of the lens epithelium, in a region referred to as the germinative zone. The lens epithelial cells elongate, lose contact with the capsule and epithelium, synthesize crystallin, and then finally lose their nuclei (enucleate) as they become mature lens fibers. From development through early adulthood, the addition of secondary lens fibers results in the lens growing more ellipsoid in shape; after about age 20, however, the lens grows rounder with time.

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