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Effect of UV irradiation on type I collagen fibril formation in neutral collagen solutions

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Collagens have the well-known ability to spontaneously self-associate to form fibrils at physiological temperature and neutral pH in vitro and in vivo. Because solar UV may photochemically alter collagen, the kinetics of fibril formation may be modified. Thus, we have begun a systematic study of the effect of various UV wavebands on fibril formation. Methods:

Citrate-soluble calf skin collagen (Elastin Products) was dissolved at 0.05% in 0.5 M HOAc, dialyzed over 2 days into two changes of 0.0327 M phosphate buffer, pH 7.0 at 4 °C, and centrifuged at 48 000×g. Photolysis was carried out at 4 °C with either (a) UVC (UVG–11 lamp), (b) filtered solar-simulating radiation (SSR) or UVA (SSR or UVL–21 lamp filtered with a 2.0 mm Schott WG 345 filter). Gelation was commenced by rapidly raising the temperature from 8 °C to 33 °C. Nucleation and growth were followed by turbidimetric measurements at 400 nm. Results:

UVC radiation (0–17.3 J/cm2) resulted in a dose-dependent decrease in the rate of fibril growth. Under these conditions, concomitant collagen cross-linking and degradation occurred. Fibril nucleation, a prerequisite for growth, was rapid (threshold ∼ 2 min) and was not affected by UVC, UVA or SSR. SSR (0–1320 J/cm2) caused a small decrease in growth rate and in the degree of fibril formation. UVA radiation (0–1080 J/cm2) had a similar effect. “Direct” photochemical damage thus paralleled absorption via various collagen chromophores, with UVC>SSR∼UVA. The presence of riboflavin (RF) resulted in ground-state interactions that markedly altered both nucleation and growth kinetics. Irradiation with 29.6 J/cm2 UVA in the presence of RF photosensitizer caused relatively minor additional changes in fibrillation kinetics. Conclusions:

These results collectively indicate that fibril formation is markedly dependent on specific ground state interactions and relatively insensitive to nonspecific UV damage. On the other hand, fibrils thus formed from photochemically altered collagen may have altered structural properties that could have subtle but unfavorable effects on the local dermal milieu in vivo. Notwithstanding, the relative insensitivity of fibrillogenesis to non-specific photochemical damage probably represents a favorable adaptation, overall, which tends to conserve the mechanical integrity of the skin.

Keywords: collagen; fibrillation; ultraviolet radiation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Morehouse School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Atlanta, GA;

Publication date: June 1, 2001


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