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Dev Dyn. 1995 Mar;202(3):229-43.

Collagen fibrillogenesis in situ: fibril segments undergo post-depositional modifications resulting in linear and lateral growth during matrix development.

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Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts 02111, USA.


Elucidating how collagen fibril growth is regulated is important in determining how tissues are assembled. Fibrils are deposited as segments. The growth of these segments is an important determinant of tissue architecture, stability, and mechanical attributes. Fibril segments were isolated from developing tendons and their structure characterized. The post-depositional changes leading to linear and lateral growth of fibrils also were examined. Segments extracted from 14-day chicken embryo tendons had a mean length of 29 microns. The segments were asymmetric, having a short and a long tapered end. Most of the segments were centrosymmetric with respect to molecular packing. Segments extracted from 12- to 16-day tendons had the same structure, but mean segment length increased incrementally due to the addition of an increasingly large population of longer segments. At 17 days of development there was a precipitous increase in segment length. The morphological data indicate that the increase in length was the result of lateral associations among adjacent segments. Analysis demonstrated that this fibril growth was associated with a significant decrease in fibril associated decorin. Using immunoelectron microscopy, decorin was seen to decrease significantly at 18 days of development. When decorin content was biochemically determined, a decrease also was observed. Decorin mRNA also decreased relative to fibrillar collagen mRNA during the same period. These data support the hypothesis that a decrease in fibril-associated decorin is necessary for fibril growth associated with tissue maturation. Growth through post-depositional fusion allows for appositional and intercalary growth and would be essential for normal development, growth, and repair.

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