Tropoelastin assembly is a key step in the formation of elastin. We consider how nanoscale intracellular assemblies of tropoelastin can congregate in an extracellular environment to give microscale aggregates. We describe novel 200-300 nm spherical particles that serve as intermediates in the formation of the coacervate. Their aggregation gives 800 nm to 1 microm species. This process is facilitated by heparan sulfate and dermatan sulfate interactions which effectively lower the critical concentration to facilitate this transition. This coacervation process was examined using a panel of heparin chains of various lengths and showed greatest efficacy for the decasaccharide, followed by the octasaccharide, while the hexasaccharide displayed the shortest efficacious length. We propose that these oligosaccharide interactions enable the charge-mediated aggregation of positively charged tropoelastin. This biochemistry models glycosaminoglycan interactions on the cell surface during elastogenesis which is characterized by the clustering of nascent tropoelastin aggregates to form micron-sized spherules.
2009 International Society of Matrix Biology. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.