The elaboration of dentin collagen precursors by the odontoblasts in the incisor teeth of 30–40-g rats was investigated by electron microscopy, histochemistry, and radioautography after intravenous injection of tritium-labeled proline.
At 2 min after injection, when the labeling of blood proline was high, radioactivity was restricted to the rough endoplasmic reticulum, indicating that it is the site of synthesis of the polypeptide precursors of collagen, the pro-alpha chains.
At 10 min, when the labeling of blood proline had already declined, radioactivity was observed in spherical portions of Golgi saccules containing entangled threads, and, at 20 min, radioactivity appeared in cylindrical portions containing aggregates of parallel threads. The parallel threads measured 280–350 nm in length and stained with the low pH-phosphotungstic acid technique for carbohydrate and with the silver methenamine technique for aldehydes (as did extracellular collagen fibrils). The passage of label from spherical to cylindrical Golgi portions is associated with the reorganization of entangled into parallel threads, which is interpreted as the packing of procollagen molecules.
Between 20 and 30 min, prosecretory and secretory granules respectively became labeled. These results indicate that the cylindrical portions of Golgi saccules transform into prosecretory and subsequently into secretory granules. Within these granules, the parallel threads, believed to be procollagen molecules, are transported to the odontoblast process.
At 90 min and 4 h after injection, label was present in predentin, indicating that the labeled content of secretory granules had been released into predentin. This occurred by exocytosis as evidenced by the presence of secretory granules in fusion with the plasmalemma of the odontoblast process.
It is proposed that pro-alpha chains give rise to procollagen molecules which assemble into parallel aggregates in the Golgi apparatus. Procollagen molecules are then transported within secretory granules to the odontoblast process and released by exocytosis. In predentin procollagen molecules would give rise to tropocollagen molecules, which would then polymerize into collagen fibrils.