Background and methods: The association of masseter tendon type VI collagen with other extracellular matrix (ECM) components was examined from osseous attachment to myotendinous junction by immunohistochemistry and transmission electron microscopy with ATP treatment and enzyme digestion.
Results: In the tendon proper, fibrocytes extended their processes among bundles of striated collagen fibrils and associated with adjacent cells through amorphous materials, thus forming a three-dimensional network. The amorphous or filamentous material was observed around the fibrocyte cell body and along the cell processes, where the localization of type VI collagen was confirmed by immunohistochemistry using anti-type VI collagen antibody. After treatment with 20 mM adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP), 100 nm periodic fibrils, an aggregated form of type VI collagen, were formed in the place where amorphous or filamentous material was present before the treatment. In myotendinous junction, the ATP-aggregated periodic fibrils were observed to associate with the external lamina of the muscle cells as well as among junctional tendon collagen fibrils. In the tendon-bone boundary, ATP-aggregated periodic fibrils were observed around fibrocartilage-like cells in the uncalcifying area but not in the calcification front. Prolonged ATP treatment or hyaluronidase predigestion caused the formation of type VI collagen periodic fibrils in the area near the calcified matrix.
Conclusions: The distribution of type VI collagen in mouse masseter tendon is different in different anatomical position. This may reflect the different functional demand for this collagen.