Image analysis of mineralized and non-mineralized type I collagen fibrils
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Turkey leg tendons at an early stage of mineralization have been thin sectioned and imaged by electron microscopy. At this stage collagen-associated mineral apatite was found to be present within both the gap and overlap zones. The earliest apatite occurs in a microcrystalline form which gives a rather generalized and characteristic density to both the gap and overlap zones; with subsequent development larger defined apatite crystals arise which span gap/overlap zones. Fourier transformation of such images revealed the major 67 nm axial repeat of the gap/overlap zone plus four other maxima corresponding to repeat spacings of 22, 16, 13, and 11 nm respectively. Computer imaging techniques were used to reconstruct images by using selected spatial frequencies from such transforms. In this manner the subperiodic distributions of mineral were visually enhanced. These subperiodicities are positioned in an asymmetric fashion over the entire D unit repeat aligning with the molecular orientation of the fibril. Analyses of both negatively stained collagen and computer-generated maps of collagen hydrophobicity were compared to the mineral distribution of collagen. Densitometric comparisons showed a positional correlation between the axial banding patterns of mineralized fibrils and those of negatively stained non-mineralized fibrils. Comparable spatial frequencies were also present in transforms between hydrophobic maps and mineral distribution of collagen. These results suggest that the lateral clusterings of hydrophobic residues which span the fibril at specific sites in both the gap and overlap zones serve to prohibit early mineral deposition. This observed hydrophobic influence in combination with the gap space appear as contributing factors in the observed axial distribution of mineral within collagen.
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