Fibrillin microfibrils are stiff reinforcing fibres in compliant tissues

J Mol Biol. 2003 Sep 5;332(1):183-93. doi: 10.1016/s0022-2836(03)00829-5.


Fibrillin-rich microfibrils have endowed tissues with elasticity throughout multicellular evolution. We have used molecular combing techniques to determine Young's modulus for individual microfibrils and X-ray diffraction of zonular filaments of the eye to establish the linearity of microfibril periodic extension. Microfibril periodicity is not altered at physiological zonular tissue extensions and Young's modulus is between 78 MPa and 96 MPa, which is two orders of magnitude stiffer than elastin. We conclude that elasticity in microfibril-containing tissues arises primarily from reversible alterations in supra-microfibrillar arrangements rather than from intrinsic elastic properties of individual microfibrils which, instead, act as reinforcing fibres in fibrous composite tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cryoelectron Microscopy
  • Deer
  • Elasticity
  • Elastin / chemistry
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / chemistry
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / ultrastructure
  • Eye Proteins / chemistry
  • Eye Proteins / metabolism
  • Fibrillins
  • Humans
  • Microfilament Proteins / chemistry*
  • Microfilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Microfilament Proteins / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Models, Molecular
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Eye Proteins
  • Fibrillins
  • Microfilament Proteins
  • Elastin