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Abstract With aging, human lens proteins accumulate fluorophores having blue and green emissions. Model studies were undertaken to determine the role of 3-hydroxykynurenine (3-HK) and its glucoside (3-HKG) in the photochemical production of those fluorophores. Experiments were carried out using 10−3M 3-HK solutions in the presence or absence of glycine (1M), which was used to mimic the environment of the lens. The solutions were photolyzed (transmission above 295 nm) for various periods of time while the loss of starting material and the formation of fluorescent photoproducts (blue emission at 470 nm, and green emission at 520 nm) were monitored using fluorescence and UV-visible spectroscopy and thin-layer and high-pressure liquid chromatography analysis. Several parameters were varied such as oxygen tension and the addition of the free radical scavenger, penicillamine. The photolytic loss of 3-HK in the absence of glycine occurred approximately 5-10 times faster than in its presence. Conversely, blue and green fluorophores formed in irradiated solutions containing glycine but not with the photolysis of 3-HK alone. The blue fluorophore was formed first and appeared then to be photochemically converted to the green one, with the rate of formation of the latter increasing with an increase in UV dosage or oxidizing conditions. The addition of penicillamine drastically reduced the photochemical formation of both fluorophores.

Both the blue and green fluorophores appear to result from the photochemically induced covalent attachment of 3-HK to glycine. In the human lens, these reactions can explain the age-related loss of 3-HKG with the concomitant formation of fluorophores covalently attached to lens proteins, probably via the amino group of lysine.