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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Nov 14;103(46):17249-54. Epub 2006 Nov 6.

The 10+4 microfibril structure of thin cartilage fibrils.

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  • 1Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, Michael Smith Building, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, United Kingdom.


Determining the structure of cartilage collagen fibrils will provide insights into how mutations in collagen genes affect cartilage formation during skeletal morphogenesis and understanding the mechanism of fibril growth. The fibrils are indeterminate in size, heteropolymeric, and highly cross-linked, which make them refractory to analysis by conventional high-resolution structure determination techniques. Electron microscopy has been limited to making simple measurements of fibril diameter and immunolocalizing certain molecules at the fibril surface. Consequently, structural information on the fibrils is limited. In this study we have used scanning transmission electron microscopic mass mapping, analysis of axial stain exclusion pattern, and r-weighted back-projection techniques to determine the intermediate resolution (to approximately 4 nm) structure of thin collagen fibrils from embryonic cartilage. The analyses show that the fibrils are constructed from a 10+4 microfibrillar arrangement in which a core of four microfibrils is surrounded by a ring of 10 microfibrils. Accurate mass measurements predict that each microfibril contains five collagen molecules in cross-section. Based on the proportion of collagen II, IX, and XI in the fibrils, the fibril core comprises two microfibrils each of collagen II and collagen XI. Single molecules of collagen IX presumably occur at the fibril surface between the extended N-terminal domains of collagen XI. The 10+4 microfibril structure explains the mechanism of diameter limitation in the narrow fibrils and the absence of narrow collagen fibrils in cartilage lacking collagen XI.

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