Collagens extracted from heart valves by using limited pepsin digestion were fractionated by differential salt precipitation. Collagen types were identified by sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis, amino acid analysis and cleavage with CNBr. Heart-valve collagen was heterogeneous in nature, consisting of a mixture of type-I and type-III collagens. The identity of type-III collagen was established on the basis of (a) insolubility in 1.7 M-NaC1 at neutral pH, (b) behaviour of this collagen fraction on gel electrophoresis under reducing and non-reducing conditions, (c) amino acid analysis showing a hydroxyproline/proline ratio greater than 1, and (d) profile of CNBr peptides on sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis showing a peak characteristic for type-III collagen containing peptides alpha1(III)CB8 and alpha1(III)CB3. In addition to types-I and -III collagen, a collagen polypeptide not previously described in heart valves was identified. This polypeptide represented approx. 30% of the collagen fraction precipitated at 4.0 M-NaCl, it migrated between beta- and alpha1-collagen chains on sodium dodecyl sulphate/polyacrylamide-gel electrophoresis and its electrophoretic behaviour was not affected by disulphide-bond reduction. All collagen fractions from the heart valves contained increased amounts of hydroxylysine when compared with type-I and -III collagens from other tissues. The presence of beta- and gamma-chains and higher aggregates in pepsin-solubilized collagen indicated that these collagens were highly cross-linked and suggested that some of these cross-links involved the triple-helical regions of the molecule. It is likely that the higher hydroxylysine content of heart-valve collagen is responsible for the high degree of intermolecular cross-linking and may be the result of an adaptive mechanism for the specialized function of these tissues.

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