Fibrillin-rich microfibrils: Elastic biopolymers of the extracellular matrix

C. M. Kielty, T. J. Wess, L. Haston, Jane L. Ashworth, M. J. Sherratt, C. A. Shuttleworth

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    Fibrillin-rich microfibrils are evolutionarily ancient macromolecular assemblies of the extracellular matrix. They have unique extensible properties that endow vascular and other tissues with long-range elasticity. Microfibril extensibility supports the low pressure closed circulations of lower organisms such as crustaceans. In higher vertebrates, microfibrils act as a template for elastin deposition and are components of mature elastic fibres. In man, the importance of microfibrils is highlighted by the linkage of mutations in their principal structural component, fibrillin-1, to the heritable disease Marfan syndrome which is characterised by severe cardiovascular, skeletal and ocular defects. When isolated from tissues, fibrillin-rich microfibrils have a complex ultrastructural organisation with a characteristic 'beads-on-a-strong' appearance. X-ray fibre diffraction studies and biomechanical testing have shown that microfibrils are reversibly extensible at tissue extensions of 100%. Ultrastructural analysis and 3D reconstructions of isolated microfibrils using automated electron tomography have revealed new details of how fibrillin molecules are aligned within microfibrils in untensioned and extended states, and delineated the role of calcium in regulating microfibril beaded periodicity, rest length and molecular organisation. The molecular basis of how fibrillin molecules assemble into microfibrils, the central role of cells in regulating this process, and the identity of other molecules that may coassemble into microfibrils are now being elucidated. This information will enhance our understanding of the elastic mechanism of these unique extracellular matrix polymers, and may lead to new microfibril-based strategies for repairing elastic tissues in ageing and disease.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)581-596
    Number of pages15
    JournalJournal of Muscle Research and Cell Motility
    Issue number5-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2002


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