Features of Collagen Could Shed Light on Disease Processes

According to a study out of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists are reporting new, unexpected details about the fundamental structure of collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body. Once viewed as inert, forms structures that regulate how certain enzymes break down and remodel body tissue. The finding of this regulatory system provides a molecular view of the potential role of physical forces at work in heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and other disease-related processes.

It has been known that collagen remodeling plays an important role in a wide variety of biological processes ranging from wound healing to cancer growth. Collagen is broken down by a certain class of enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), but the how is what is new.

The researchers isolated individual, nano-sized collagen fibrils from rat-tail tendons. They then exposed the collagen fibrils to fluorescently-labeled human MMP enzymes. Using video microscopy, the scientists tracked thousands of enzymes moving along a fibril. Unexpectedly, the scientists observed that the enzymes preferred to attach at certain sites along the fibril, and over time these attachment sites slowly moved, or disappeared and reappeared in other positions. These observations revealed collagen fibrils have defects that spontaneously form and heal. In the presence of tension, such as when tendons stretch, defects are likely eliminated, preventing enzymes from breaking down collagen that is loaded by physical force, the researchers suggest. In short, they identified a possible strain-sensitive mechanism for regulating tissue remodeling.


raziRazi Berry, Founder and Publisher of Naturopathic Doctor News & Review (ndnr.com) and NaturalPath (thenatpath.com), has spent the last decade as a natural medicine advocate and marketing whiz. She has galvanized and supported the naturopathic community, bringing a higher quality of healthcare to millions of North Americans through her publications. A self-proclaimed health-food junkie and mother of two; she loves all things nature, is obsessed with organic gardening, growing fruit trees (not easy in Phoenix), laughing until she snorts, and homeschooling. She is a little bit crunchy and yes, that is her real name.

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