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J Mol Biol. 2008 Nov 28;383(5):1171-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jmb.2008.09.004. Epub 2008 Sep 12.

Changes in the molecular packing of fibrillin microfibrils during extension indicate intrafibrillar and interfibrillar reorganization in elastic response.

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  • 1School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Cardiff University, Maindy Road, Cardiff CF24 4LU, UK.


Fibrillin-rich microfibrils are the major structural components of the extracellular matrix that provide elasticity in a majority of connective tissues. The basis of elastic properties lies in the organization of fibrillin molecules, which, unfortunately, is still poorly understood. An X-ray diffraction study of hydrated fibrillin-rich microfibrils from zonular filaments has been conducted to give an insight into the molecular structure of microfibrils in intact tissue. A series of measurements was taken during controlled tissue extension to observe alterations in the lateral packing of microfibrils. Computer-generated simulated patterns were used to fit the experimental X-ray scattering data and to obtain the fibril diameter and lateral distance between the fibrils. The results suggest a nonlinear correlation between external strain and decrease in fibril diameter and lateral spacing. This was accompanied by a nonlinear increase in axial periodicity and a structure with a 160-nm periodicity, which is reported here for the first time using X-ray diffraction. These changes may reflect the unraveling of fibrillin from the complex folded arrangement into a linear structure. This finding supports a pleating model where fibrillin molecules are highly folded within the microfibrils; more importantly, the connection is made between the interaction of individual microfibrils and the change in their suprafibrillar coherent organization during extension. We suggest that the intermediate states observed in our study reflect sequential unfolding of fibrillin and can explain the process of its reversible unraveling.

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