The two morphologically different constituents of the mature elastic fiber, the central amorphous and the peripheral microfibrillar components, have been separated and partially characterized. A pure preparation of elastic fibers was obtained from fetal bovine ligamentum nuchae by extraction of the homogenized ligament with 5 M guanidine followed by digestion with collagenase. The resultant preparation consisted of elastic fibers which were morphologically identical with those seen in vivo. The microfibrillar components of these elastic fibers were removed either by proteolytic enzymes or by reduction of disulfide bonds with dithioerythritol in 5 M guanidine. The microfibrils solubilized by both methods were rich in polar, hydroxy, and sulfur-containing amino acids and contained less glycine, valine, and proline than the amorphous component of the elastic fiber. In contrast, the amino acid composition of the amorphous component was identical with that previously described for elastin. This component demonstrated selective susceptibility to elastase digestion, but was relatively resistant to the action of other proteolytic enzymes and to reduction. These observations establish that the microfibrils consist of a different connective tissue protein (or proteins) that is neither collagen nor elastin. During embryologic development the microfibrils form an aggregate structure before the amorphous component is secreted. These microfibrils may therefore play a primary role in the morphogenesis of the elastic fiber.

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