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Am Rev Respir Dis. 1979 Oct;120(4):901-10.

Ultrastructural localization and characterization of proteoglycans in the pulmonary alveolus.


The ultrastructural identification and characterization of lung proteoglycans was studied using the polycationic dye, ruthenium red. Treating lung parenchyma with the detergent Triton X-100 increased epithelial permeability and allowed the dye to penetrate alveolar walls and stain the alveolar basement membrane and lung collagen. Ruthenium red stained numerous 10- to 40-nm granules concentrated at the lamina surface of basement membrane and attached to the major doublet collagen band. The granules attached to collagen were digested by chondroitinase ABC and papain, indicating that they represent proteoglycan aggregates containing chondroitin or dermatan sulfate. Granules observed on the alveolar basement membrane were resistant to digestion by collagenase and by all glycosidases, suggesting that heparin or heparan sulfate is the predominant glycosaminoglycan in epithelial basement membrane. Ruthenium red in association with tannic acid also stained a fine network of 3- to 10-nm filaments in which collagen was enmeshed, forming the interfibrillar matrix. This network was resistant to collagenase and glycosidase digestion but was removed after papain digestion, suggesting that it was a protein or glycoprotein that did not contain glycosaminoglycans. These methods have allowed visualization of lung proteoglycans and have identified a structure that does not contain glycosaminoglycan that is intimately associated with collagen. This technique can now be applied to explore the potential role of proteoglycans in lung development and in restructuring the lung in various disease states.

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