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J Mol Biol. 1991 Jul 5;220(1):111-23.

Morphology of sheet-like assemblies of pN-collagen, pC-collagen and procollagen studied by scanning transmission electron microscopy mass measurements.

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Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Manchester, England.


At high concentrations, type I pN-collagen, pC-collagen and procollagen (the first 2 generated from procollagen by enzymic cleavage of C-propeptides and N-propeptides, respectively) can all be made to assemble in vitro into thin D-periodic sheets or tapes. Scanning transmission electron microscopy mass measurements show that the pN-collagen sheets and procollagen tapes have a mass per unit area corresponding to that of approximately 6.8 monolayers of close-packed molecules. pN-collagen sheets are extensive and remarkably uniform in mass thickness (fractional S.D. 0.035); procollagen tapes are neither as extensive nor as uniform in thickness. The mean thickness of pC-collagen tapes is less and the variability is greater. In pN-collagen sheets, the overlap: gap mass contrast in a D-period is increased from 5:4 (the ratio in a native collagen fibril) to 6:4, showing that the N-propeptides do not project into the gap but are folded back over the overlap zone. Assuming all N-propeptides to be constrained to the two surfaces of a sheet, their surface density can be found from the mass thickness of the sheet. In a lateral direction (i.e. normal to the axial direction where the spacing is D-periodic), the N-propeptide domains are calculated to be spaced, centre to centre, by 2.23 (+/- 0.1) nm on both surfaces. This value (approx. 1.5 x the triple-helix diameter) implies close-packing laterally with adjacent domains in contact. Sheet formation and the "surface-seeking" behaviour of propeptides can be understood in terms of the dual character of the molecules, evident from solubility data, with propeptides possessing interaction properties very different from those displayed by the rest of the molecule. The form and stability of sheets (and of first-formed fibrils assembling in vivo) could, it is suggested, depend on the partially fluid-like nature of lateral contacts between collagen molecules.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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