Collagen fibril organisation in mammalian vitreous by freeze etch/rotary shadowing electron microscopy

Micron. 2001 Apr;32(3):301-6. doi: 10.1016/s0968-4328(00)00035-4.


Mammalian vitreous gel contains two major network-forming polymeric systems: long, thin fibrils comprising predominantly type II collagen and a meshwork of hyaluronan. The gel structure is maintained primarily by the collagen component, but little is known about the mechanisms of spacing of the collagen fibrils and of interactions between fibrils to form a stable network. In this study we have applied the technique of freeze etching/rotary shadowing electron microscopy in order to reveal the fibrillar network in central, cortical and basal vitreous and to understand the structural relationship between the collagen fibrils. The fibrils were arranged side by side in narrow bundles that frequently branched to link one bundle to another. Only a minor part of the fibrillar network consisted of segments that had a diameter of a single fibril (16.4nm mean diameter). In addition, three morphologically distinct filamentous structures were observed that appeared to form links within the collagen fibrillar network: short, single interlinking filaments of 7.0nm mean diameter, network-forming filaments of 6.7nm mean diameter, and longer filaments of 8.2nm mean diameter. All three types of filamentous structure were removed by digestion of the vitreous gels with Streptomyces hyaluronan lyase prior to freeze etching, indicating that these structures contain or are stabilised by hyaluronan. These filamentous structures may contribute to the structural stability of the vitreous gel.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Collagen / metabolism
  • Collagen / ultrastructure*
  • Freeze Etching*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Microscopy, Electron / methods*
  • Polysaccharide-Lyases / metabolism
  • Vitreous Body / metabolism
  • Vitreous Body / ultrastructure*


  • Collagen
  • Polysaccharide-Lyases
  • hyaluronate lyase