Extracellular microfibrils, alone or in association with elastin, confer critical biomechanical properties on a variety of connective tissues. Little is known about the composition of the microfibrils or the factors responsible for their spatial organization into tissue-specific macroaggregates. Recent work has revealed the existence of two structurally related microfibrillar components, termed fibrillin-1 and fibrillin-2. The functional relationships between these glycoproteins and between them and other components of the microfibrils and elastic fibers are obscure. As a first step toward elucidating these important points, we compared the expression pattern of the fibrillin genes during mammalian embryogenesis. The results revealed that the two genes are differentially expressed, in terms of both developmental stages and tissue distribution. In the majority of cases, fibrillin-2 transcripts appear earlier and accumulate for a shorter period of time than fibrillin-1 transcripts. Synthesis of fibrillin-1 correlates with late morphogenesis and the appearance of well-defined organ structures; fibrillin-2 synthesis, on the other hand, coincides with early morphogenesis and, in particular, with the beginning of elastogenesis. The findings lend indirect support to our original hypothesis stating that fibrillins contribute to the compositional and functional heterogeneity of the microfibrils. The available evidence is also consistent with the notion that the fibrillins might have distinct, but related roles in microfibril physiology. Accordingly, we propose that fibrillin-1 provides mostly force-bearing structural support, whereas fibrillin-2 predominantly regulates the early process of elastic fiber assembly.

This content is only available as a PDF.