Type I collagen is the most abundant extracellular matrix protein in bone and other connective tissues and plays key roles in normal and pathological bone formation as well as in connective tissue disorders and fibrosis. Although much is known about the collagen biosynthetic pathway and its regulatory steps, the mechanisms by which it is assembled extracellularly are less clear. We have generated GFPtpz and mCherry-tagged collagen fusion constructs for live imaging of type I collagen assembly by replacing the α2(I)-procollagen N-terminal propeptide with GFPtpz or mCherry. These novel imaging probes were stably transfected into MLO-A5 osteoblast-like cells and fibronectin-null mouse embryonic fibroblasts (FN-null-MEFs) and used for imaging type I collagen assembly dynamics and its dependence on fibronectin. Both fusion proteins co-precipitated with α1(I)-collagen and remained intracellular without ascorbate but were assembled into α1(I) collagen-containing extracellular fibrils in the presence of ascorbate. Immunogold-EM confirmed their ultrastuctural localization in banded collagen fibrils. Live cell imaging in stably transfected MLO-A5 cells revealed the highly dynamic nature of collagen assembly and showed that during assembly the fibril networks are continually stretched and contracted due to the underlying cell motion. We also observed that cell-generated forces can physically reshape the collagen fibrils. Using co-cultures of mCherry- and GFPtpz-collagen expressing cells, we show that multiple cells contribute collagen to form collagen fiber bundles. Immuno-EM further showed that individual collagen fibrils can receive contributions of collagen from more than one cell. Live cell imaging in FN-null-MEFs expressing GFPtpz-collagen showed that collagen assembly was both dependent upon and dynamically integrated with fibronectin assembly. These GFP-collagen fusion constructs provide a powerful tool for imaging collagen in living cells and have revealed novel and fundamental insights into the dynamic mechanisms for the extracellular assembly of collagen.
- EXTRACELLULAR MATRIX
- LIVE CELL IMAGING
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine