The microfibrillar glycoprotein fibrillin is linked to the Marfan syndrome, an autosomal dominant connective tissue disorder. In this study, fibrillin synthesis, deposition and assembly has been investigated in Marfan dermal fibroblast lines from two unrelated patients for whom distinct mutations in the fibrillin gene FBN1 have been identified. In patient NB, a point mutation has occurred which causes an amino acid substitution and the other patient (GK) has a deletion in one allele. The two cell lines were broadly comparable with respect to de novo fibrillin synthesis and its distribution between medium and cell layer compartments. Electrophoresis of fibrillin immunoprecipitates confirmed the presence of fibrillin in medium and cell layers. GK cells secreted an additional higher relative molecular mass fibrillin-immunoreactive component. The time-course of fibrillin secretion was similar for the two lines, but differences in fibrillin aggregation were apparent. Rotary shadowing electron microscopy of extracted cell layers demonstrated the presence of abundant and extensive microfibrils in NB cell layers. These were abnormal in their gross morphology in comparison to microfibrils isolated from control cultures. No periodic microfibrillar structures were isolated from GK cell layers. These studies underline the need to classify fibrillin defects in terms of biochemical and ultrastructural criteria. Examination of the effects of individual mutations on microfibril organization will be particularly informative in elucidating the relationship between microfibril dysfunction and the complex clinical manifestations of Marfan patients.

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