Oxidative mechanisms during nuclear sclerosis of the lens are poorly understood, in particular metal-catalyzed oxidation. The lysyl oxidation product adipic semialdehyde (allysine, ALL) and its oxidized end-product 2-aminoadipic acid (2-AAA) were determined as a function of age and presence of diabetes. Surprisingly, whereas both ALL and 2-AAA increased with age and strongly correlated with cataract grade and protein absorbance at 350 nm, only ALL formation but not 2-AAA was increased by diabetes. To clarify the mechanism of oxidation, rabbit lenses were treated with hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) for 48 h, and proteins were analyzed by gas and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry for ALL, 2-AAA, and multiple glycation products. Upon exposure to HBO, rabbit lenses were swollen, and nuclei were yellow. Protein-bound ALL increased 8-fold in the nuclear protein fractions versus controls. A dramatic increase in methyl-glyoxal hydroimidazolone and carboxyethyl-lysine but no increase of 2-AAA occurred, suggesting more drastic conditions are needed to oxidize ALL into 2-AAA. Indeed the latter formed only upon depletion of glutathione and was catalyzed by H(2)O(2).