The distribution, supramolecular form, and arrangement of collagen types I and V in the chicken embryo corneal stroma were studied using electron microscopy, collagen type-specific monoclonal antibodies, and a preembedding immunogold method. Double-label immunoelectron microscopy with colloidal gold-tagged monoclonal antibodies was used to simultaneously localize collagen type I and type V within the chick corneal stroma. The results definitively demonstrate, for the first time, that both collagens are codistributed within the same fibril. Type I collagen was localized to striated fibrils throughout the corneal stroma homogeneously. Type V collagen could be localized only after pretreatment of the tissue to partially disrupt collagen fibril structure. After such pretreatments the type V collagen was found in regions where fibrils were partially dissociated and not in regions where fibril structure was intact. When pretreated tissues were double labeled with antibodies against types I and V collagen coupled to different size gold particles, the two collagens colocalized in areas where fibril structure was partially disrupted. Antibodies against type IV collagen were used as a control and were nonreactive with fibrils. These results indicate that collagen types I and V are assembled together within single fibrils in the corneal stroma such that the interaction of these collagen types within heterotypic fibrils masks the epitopes on the type V collagen molecule. One consequence of the formation of such heterotypic fibrils may be the regulation of corneal fibril diameter, a condition essential for corneal transparency.

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