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Int J Biochem Cell Biol. 1997 Aug-Sep;29(8-9):1063-70.

Scanning transmission electron microscopy mass analysis of fibrillin-containing microfibrils from foetal elastic tissues.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, U.K.


We have applied scanning transmission electron microscopy to intact native fibrillin-containing microfibrils isolated from foetal bovine elastic tissues in order to derive new insights into microfibril organisation. This technique provides quantitative data on the mass per unit length and axial mass distribution of unstained, unshadowed macromolecules. Scanning transmission electron microscopy of microfibrils from aorta, skin and nuchal ligament revealed that the beads corresponded to peaks of mass and the interbead regions to troughs of mass. These major features of axial mass distribution were characteristic of all microfibrils examined. Tissue-specific and age-dependent variations in mass were identified in microfibrils that were structurally comparable by rotary shadowing electron microscopy. Increased microfibril mass correlated with increasing gestational age. The additional mass was associated predominantly at, or close to, the bead. Some microfibril populations exhibited pronounced assymetry in their axial mass distribution. These data indicate that intact native microfibrillar assemblies from developing elastic tissues are heterogeneous in composition. Loss of mass following chondroitinase ABC or AC lyase treatment confirmed the presence of chondroitin sulphate in nuchal ligament microfibrillar assemblies.

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