Although several proteases have been identified in homogenates of cultured epithelial cells of the eye lens and in lens tissues, there is little information regarding intracellular protein degradation in intact lens cells in vitro. Cultured lens cells may be useful in the study of intracellular protein degradation in the lens, a tissue with a wide range of protein half-lives. This is of interest because alterations in protein turnover in the lens have been implicated in cataract formation. This study examines intracellular protein degradation in cultured bovine lens epithelial cells (BLEC). Cell cultures were incubated with radiolabeled leucine to label intracellular proteins. Protein degradation was measured by monitoring the release of trichloroacetic-acid-soluble radioactivity into the culture medium. The average half-life of long-lived proteins (half-life >50 h) was typically about 57 h in serum-supplemented medium. Average rates of degradation of long-lived proteins increased by up to 73% when fetal bovine serum was withdrawn from the culture medium. Serum had no effect on the degradation of short-lived proteins (half-life <10 h). Degradation of long-lived proteins in the presence and absence of serum was further studied in cultured BLEC from population doubling level (PDL) 2 to 43. Average half-life of proteins in serum-supplemented medium was 52 to 58 h and did not vary significantly as a function of PDL. Degradation rates in serum-free medium increased approximately twofold up to PDL 7, but returned by PDL 25 to original levels, which were maintained through PDL 43.