Volume 65 (2002) Issue 1 Pages 37-43
The mutual interactions of small proteoglycans with collagen fibrils in the extracellular matrix remain to be completely understood. The present research investigated the extracellular matrix of the rat tail tendon by atomic force microscopy (AFM) as well as by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Observations showed simply dehydrated specimens made of large heterogeneous fibrils, tightly packed in mutual contact with no visible interfibrillar spaces. Proteoglycans usually extended onto neighboring fibrils, forming an intricate interfibrillar weaving highly sensitive to chondroitinase digestion. Pre-treatment with cupromeronic blue only affected the proteoglycans side chains, which appeared better preserved but somewhat thickened. Observation of hydrated specimens by AFM confirmed the close packing of collagen fibrils and the abundance of collagen-bound proteoglycans. Interfibrillar bridges were only occasionally observed in this tissue, whose fibrils are instead tightly bound together by proteoglycans in a structure quite consistent with its functional requirements. The molecular machinery responsible for these interactions is the subject of ongoing research.