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Matrix Biol. 1997 Apr;16(1):13-20.

Eggshells are shaped by a precise spatio-temporal arrangement of sequentially deposited macromolecules.

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Department of Animal Biology, Faculty of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, University of Chile, Santiago, Chile.


The avian eggshell is a composite bioceramic which is formed by a controlled interaction of an organic and an inorganic phase. The organic phase contains, among other constituents, type X collagen and proteoglycans, mainly keratan and dermatan sulfate. Understanding the principles governing the synthesis and temporo-spatial distribution of such macromolecules, and their influence on the organization of the crystalline phase, is an essential aspect of establishing the biological basis of the quality of eggshell, both as an embryonic chamber and as a natural food package. In the present study, we have examined the process of eggshell formation by immunohistochemistry, scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis. Precise sites and timing of secretion were established for the deposition of particular macromolecules. Type X collagen is detected at the very first moment of shell membrane formation. The appearance of keratan sulfate coincides with the appearance of mammillae, while dermatan sulfate is deposited later, coincident with shell matrix deposition. We propose that keratan sulfate, due to its precise localization, temporal appearance and calcium-binding affinity, relates to the maintenance of calcium reserve bodies, the primary source of calcium for the embryo. On the other hand, dermatan sulfate may control crystal growth, resulting in a preferential orientation of calcite crystals within the palisade layer.

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