The presence of elastic fibers in the extracellular matrix (ECM)
provides physiologically important elastic properties for many tissues.
Until recently, microfibrils, one component of the ECM, were thought
primarily to serve as a scaffolding upon which elastin is deposited during
development to form elaunin fibers. The most prominent protein that forms
mammalian microfibrils is fibrillin. It is known that mutations in the
fibrillin gene cause a heterogenous connective tissue disease called Marfan
syndrome, so information on mechanical properties of microfibrils or their
role in tissue function would be useful. Microfibrils are also found in the
ECM of some invertebrate tissues, and there is growing evidence that the
protein forming the structure is homologous to mammalian fibrillin.
It has been shown
that the microfibril-based arterial wall of the lobster
has viscoelastic properties, and we have now utilized this primitive artery
to measure the modulus of elasticity of microfibrils. It is similar to that
of the rubber-like protein elastin.
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