Cataract, already a major cause of visual impairment and blindness, is likely to become an increasing problem as the world population ages. In a previous study, we showed that transforming growth factor-β (TGFβ) induces rat lenses in culture to develop opacities and other changes that have many features of human subcapsular cataracts. Here we show that estrogen protects against cataract. Lenses from female rats are more resistant to TGFβ- induced cataract than those from males. Furthermore, lenses from ovariectomized females show increased sensitivity to the damaging effects of TGFβ and estrogen replacement in vivo, or exposure to estrogen in vitro, restores resistance. Sex-dependent and estrogen-related differences in susceptibility to cataract formation, consistent with a protective role for estrogen, have been noted in some epidemiological studies. The present study in the rat indicates that estrogen provides protection against cataract by countering the damaging effects of TGFβ. It also adds to an increasing body of evidence that hormone replacement therapy protects postmenopausal women against various diseases.