The aim of the current study was to understand the mechanisms of apoptosis occurring in cultured human lens epithelial cells (HLECs) following ultraviolet B (UVB) irradiation. The investigations intended to confirm the presence of apoptosis and to reveal the roles of oxidative stress, calcium (Ca2+), c‑Jun NH2‑terminal kinase (JNK)1/2, and extracellular signal‑regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 signaling pathway in these progresses. Cell apoptosis, ROS generation and intracellular Ca2+ concentration was measured by flow cytometry. The expression of CALML3, caspase-3, Bax, Bcl-2, p-JNK1/2, JNK1/2, p-ERK1/2 and ERK1/2 was measured by RT-qPCR and western blot analysis. Annexin V‑fluorescein isothiocyanate/propidium iodide staining demonstrated that UVB irradiation increased the apoptotic rate, reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and intracellular Ca2+ concentration of HLECs in dose‑ and time‑dependent manners. Overexpression of calmodulin like 3 (CALML3) reversed the effects of UVB irradiation on apoptosis, ROS production and Ca2+ concentration of HLECs, and decreased expressions of caspase‑3 and Bax, with increased expressions of Bcl‑2. Notably, silencing of CALML3 had similar effects to UVB irradiation and inhibited the activation JNK1/2 and ERK1/2 pathways. Nimodipine, a Ca2+‑channel antagonist, significantly attenuated the damages induced by CALML3 downregulation. In conclusion, UVB irradiation induced increase in apoptosis, ROS production and Ca2+ concentration of HLECs, in part, by downregulating the expression of CALML3 and involved oxidative stress, Ca2+, JNK1/2 and ERK1/2 signaling pathways, suggesting that investigating CALML3 may useful for developing cataract treatment.
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