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E C Carlson, G O Waring; Ultrastructural analyses of enzyme-treated microfibrils in rabbit corneal stroma.. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 1988;29(4):578-585.
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Microfibrils have been identified within and between corneal collagen lamellae in a number of vertebrate species in a variety of developmental and pathological conditions, but they are relatively rare in normal adult animals. The present study was undertaken to analyze corneal microfibrils in adult rabbits using enzymatic digestion techniques. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) showed clusters of 10-15 nm microfibrils arranged in quasi-parallel bundles within or between orthogonally arranged stromal collagen lamellae. When corneas were fixed with tannic acid/glutaraldehyde, the entire stroma showed increased electron density and microfibrillar bundles were heterogeneously stained. Peripheral fibrils were more electron-dense than those located more centrally. Following sequential detergent solubilization of unfixed corneas, all cellular elements were removed and collagen lamellae were distorted. Microfibrillar bundles remained intact, however, and resembled untreated controls. Subsequent treatment with pepsin, trypsin or elastase resulted in swollen corneal tissues in which collagen lamellae were no longer distinguishable but individual collagen fibrils maintained their morphological integrity. In these tissues microfibrillar bundles were rarely identifiable and were reduced to randomly oriented fragments or clusters of filamentous material. Testicular hyaluronidase or chondroitinase ABC did not affect the fibrils. These data indicate that rabbit corneal microfibrils are proteinaceous and that the tannic acid-staining component of the bundles is not glycosaminoglycan. The fibrils are indistinguishable from those identified as oxytalan in cornea and other ocular tissues. Moreover, their sensitivity to elastase and preferential staining with tannic acid/glutaraldehyde strongly suggest they may be related to the elastic system of fibrils.
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