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J Mol Biol. 1996 Aug 16;261(2):93-7.

Enzymic control of collagen fibril shape.

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Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell-Matrix Research, School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, UK.


The shape of collagen fibrils growing in vitro in a cell-free enzyme/substrate system is shown to be dependent on the enzyme/substrate (E/S) ratio. Long fibrils with tapered ends were generated by exposing pCcollagen (procollagen from which the N-propeptides had been removed) to procollagen C-proteinase (which acts by cleaving the C-propeptides from the pCcollagen, converting it to insoluble fibril-forming collagen). Tip shape profiles, established quantitatively by scanning transmission electron microscopy, depended critically on the C-proteinase/pCcollagen ratio. The finest tips occurred at low ratios, the coarsest at high ratios. All fibrils had molecules oriented with amino termini closest to the pointed ends, i.e. N,N-bipolar fibrils in which molecules change orientation abruptly at one location along the fibril. Fibrils had maximal diameter at this molecular switch region. Shape asymmetric fibrils occurred at low E/S ratios, near-shape symmetric fibrils occurred at high ratios. Fibrils generated at low E/S ratios bore the closest resemblance to those formed in vivo except that the central shaft regions of fibrils formed in vitro showed no tendency to be limited to a uniform diameter.

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