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Lab Invest. 1984 Dec;51(6):605-23.

Elastin: relation of protein and gene structure to disease.


The elastic properties of many tissues such as the lung, dermis, and large blood vessels are due to the presence of elastic fibers in the extracellular space. These fibers have been shown by biochemical and ultrastructural analysis to be comprised of two distinct components, a more abundant amorphous component and the microfibrillar component. The microfibrillar component is found in 10- to 12-nm fibrils which are located primarily around the periphery of the amorphous component but, to some extent, interspersed within it. The protein, elastin, makes up the highly insoluble amorphous component and is responsible for the elastic properties. Elastin is found throughout the vertebrate kingdom except for very primitive fish and possesses an unusual chemical composition consonant with its characteristic physical properties. Elastin is composed largely of glycine, proline, and other hydrophobic residues and contains multiple lysine-derived cross-links, such as the desmosines, which link the individual polypeptide chains into a rubber-like network. The intervening, hydrophobic regions of the polypeptide chains between the cross-links are highly mobile, and the elastic properties of the fibers can be described in terms of the theory of rubber elasticity. Recent application of recombinant DNA techniques has led to further understanding of the structure of elastin. Analyses of the bovine and human elastin genes have demonstrated that the hydrophobic and cross-linking domains are encoded in separate exons. These exons tend to be small, varying from 27 to 114 base pairs, and are separated by large intervening sequences. Furthermore, DNA sequence analysis has demonstrated that the elastin molecule contains two cysteine residues which were not previously identified near the carboxy terminus and which may be important in the interaction of elastin with other extracellular matrix proteins. Further DNA sequencing should determine the complete amino acid sequence of elastin. Biosynthetic studies and in vitro translation of elastin mRNA have demonstrated that a 72,000-dalton polypeptide, designated tropoelastin, is the initial translation product. Analysis of several developing systems has demonstrated that elastin synthesis is controlled by the level of elastin mRNA. After packaging into membrane-bound vesicles in the Golgi apparatus, tropoelastin is secreted by exocytosis into the extracellular space where it is cross-linked by a copper-requiring extracellular enzyme, lysyl oxidase. Elastin can be solubilized only by proteases that have consequently been designated elastases, although these are general, powerful proteases that can hydrolyze numerous proteins.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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