Aggregates formed by the interaction of cartilage proteoglycan monomers and fragments thereof with hyaluronate were studied by electron microscopy by use of rotary shadowing [Wiedemann, Paulsson, Timpl, Engel & Heinegård (1984) Biochem. J. 224, 331-333]. The differences in shape and packing of the proteins bound along the hyaluronate strand in aggregates formed in the presence and in the absence of link protein were examined in detail. The high resolution of the method allowed examination of the involvement in hyaluronate binding of the globular core-protein domains G1, G2 and G3 [Wiedemann, Paulsson, Timpl, Engel & Heinegård (1984) Biochem. J. 224, 331-333; Paulsson, Mörgelin, Wiedemann, Beardmore-Gray, Dunham, Hardingham, Heinegård, Timpl & Engel (1987) Biochem. J. 245, 763-772]. Fragments comprising the globular hyaluronate-binding region G1 form complexes with hyaluronate with an appearance of necklace-like structures, statistically interspaced by free hyaluronate strands. The closest centre-to-centre distance found between adjacent G1 domains was 12 nm. Another fragment comprising the binding region G1 and the adjacent second globular domain G2 attaches to hyaluronate only by one globule. Also, the core protein obtained by chondroitinase digestion of proteoglycan monomer binds only by domain G1, with domain G3 furthest removed from the hyaluronate. Globule G1 shows a statistical distribution along the hyaluronate strands. In contrast, when link protein is added, binding is no longer random, but instead uninterrupted densely packed aggregates are formed.

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