Lens and tear film lipids are as unique as the systems they reside in. The major lipid of the human lens is dihydrosphingomylein, found in quantity only in the lens. The lens contains a cholesterol to phospholipid molar ratio as high as 10:1, more than anywhere in the body. Lens lipids contribute to maintaining lens clarity, and alterations in lens lipid composition due to age are likely to contribute to cataract. Lens lipid composition reflects adaptations to the unique characteristics of the lens: no turnover of lens lipids or proteins; the lowest amount of oxygen than any other tissue and contains almost no intracellular organelles. The tear film lipid layer (TFLL) is also unique. The TFLL is a thin, 100 nm layer of lipid on the surface of tears covering the cornea that contributes to tear film stability. The major lipids of the TFLL are wax esters and cholesterol esters that are not found in the lens. The hydrocarbon chains associated with the esters are longer than those found anywhere in the body, as long as 32 carbons, and many are branched. Changes in the composition and structure of the 30,000 different moieties of TFLL contribute to the instability of tears. The focus of the current review is how spectroscopy has been used to elucidate the relationships between lipid composition, conformational order and function and the etiology of cataract and dry eye.
Published under license by The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.