Elastin as a self–organizing biomaterial: use of recombinantly expressed human elastin polypeptides as a model for investigations of structure and self–assembly of elastin

F. W. Keeley, C. M. Bellingham, K. A. Woodhouse


Elastin is the major extracellular matrix protein of large arteries such as the aorta, imparting characteristics of extensibility and elastic recoil. Once laid down in tissues, polymeric elastin is not subject to turnover, but is able to sustain its mechanical resilience through thousands of millions of cycles of extension and recoil. Elastin consists of ca. 36 domains with alternating hydrophobic and cross–linking characteristics. It has been suggested that these hydrophobic domains, predominantly containing glycine, proline, leucine and valine, often occurring in tandemly repeated sequences, are responsible for the ability of elastin to align monomeric chains for covalent cross–linking. We have shown that small, recombinantly expressed polypeptides based on sequences of human elastin contain sufficient information to self–organize into fibrillar structures and promote the formation of lysine–derived cross–links. These cross–linked polypeptides can also be fabricated into membrane structures that have solubility and mechanical properties reminiscent of native insoluble elastin. Understanding the basis of the self–organizational ability of elastin–based polypeptides may provide important clues for the general design of self–assembling biomaterials.

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