The main intrinsic polypeptide (MIP) is the major protein present in the lens fiber cell membrane and is the product of a gene which, as far as is known, is expressed only in the lens. We have used in situ hybridization and immunofluorescence microscopy to characterize the expression of this gene during the course of development in the rat. At progressive stages of lens morphogenesis, we find that synthesis of the protein is closely tied to the accumulation of MIP mRNA in cells that are committed to terminal differentiation, first in the elongating presumptive primary lens fibers and later in the secondary fibers as they differentiate from the anterior epithelial cells. The transcripts accumulate in the basal cytoplasm of the primary fibers and in the cytoplasm which surrounds the cell nucleus in the secondary fibers. We have compared this pattern of expression with that of a gene for a cytoplasmic protein, beta-crystallin beta-A1/A3. In sharp contrast to the localized concentrations seen for the MIP mRNA, beta-A1/A3 transcripts are relatively uniformly distributed throughout the cytoplasm. Neither MIP nor crystallin gene appears to be transcriptionally active in the undifferentiated epithelial cell, but transcripts from the beta-A1/A3 gene appear earlier in fiber cell differentiation than do those from the gene for MIP.

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