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Matrix Biol. 1998 Jun;17(2):93-106.

The peculiar collagens of mussel byssus.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Delaware, Newark 19716, USA.


The byssal collagens of marine mussels are extracorporeal collagens that function in byssal threads under tension. Each byssal thread resembles a shock absorber in its mechanical design: it is strong and stiff at one end and pliably elastic at the other. Primary structures of three of these collagens (preCols), deduced from cDNAs, reveal signal peptide sequences, but no N-glycosylation sites or propeptides typical of procollagens. The collagen domain (40-50 kDa) represents roughly half the mass of the mature molecules and is distinguished by its central location, abundant Gly-Gly-X repeats, and "flaws" (usually Gly deletions). Flanking the collagen domains on both sides are structural domains that resemble elastin in preCol-P, spider drag-line silk in preCol-D, and Gly-rich cell wall proteins in preCol-NG. Not surprisingly, studies of preCol distribution in byssal threads suggest preCol-P enhancement in the elastic proximal portion, while preCol-D predominates in the stiffer distal portion. PreCol-NG, in contrast, is evenly distributed. Although no data are yet available on the fibrillogenesis and cross-linking of the preCols, the quarter-stagger assembly of fibrillar interstitial collagens does not pertain since preCols lack the terminal peptides of tropocollagen. Metal-binding by histidines may mediate the initial inter- and intramolecular stabilization of preCols in the byssus.

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