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Polarized light microscopy in the study of the molecular structure of collagen and reticulin

Summary

Although collagen structure has been studied by polarized light microscopy since the early 19th century and continued since, modern studies and reviews failed to correlate the conclusions based on data obtained by the techniques with those of polarized light microscopy. Collagen I is intensely positively birefringent in respect to length of the fibres; the positive intrinsic birefringence indicates a quasi-crystalline alignment parallel to the fibre and molecule axis of the amino acid residues of the polypeptide chains. This would not have been compatible with a helical structure but has been achieved by similar tilt angles and opposite directions of the coiling and supercoiling.

Birefringence characteristics of collagen are also affected by chemical treatments, extractions and staining procedures. Attachment of chemical groups to the anionic charges present on the surface of collagen molecules results in increased positive birefringence in the case of bipolar molecules attached to two or more anionic residues. Unipolar attachment to the same groups, or to the cationic groups of the associated proteoglycans, as well as sulfation or acetylation of hydroxyls of the protein and/or the carbohydrate, reduced or reversed the sign of birefringence. Increased birefringence caused by stretching cannot be due to intramolecular events and is caused by intermolecular changes. The same applies to changes in collagen during aging.

Reticulin is a group of different substances which mostly contain collagen III. The pliability and deformability of this collagen is related to its weakly negative birefringence due to large side chains and presence of different and greater amounts of interstitial proteoglycans and other molecules. The so-called reticulin of healing wounds differs in its constitution from other reticulins but is also rich in intermolecular carbohydrate components.

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Correspondence to F. H. Kasten.

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Supported in part by BRSG Grant No. S07-RR05704-13 awarded to the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry by the Biomedical Research Grant Program, Division of Research Resources, National Institutes of Health. The authors are grateful to Mr. Raymond Calvert, Head Illustrator of the Graphic Arts Section, Department of Learning Resources, L.S.U. School of Dentistry for the graphic illustrations and to Ms. Toni M. LaBranch and Ms. Linda Watson for typing the drafts and manuscript

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Wolman, M., Kasten, F.H. Polarized light microscopy in the study of the molecular structure of collagen and reticulin. Histochemistry 85, 41–49 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00508652

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Keywords

  • Tilt Angle
  • Cationic Group
  • Sulfation
  • Early 19th Century
  • Collagen Molecule