High resolution three-dimensional reconstruction of fibrotic skeletal muscle extracellular matrix

Allison R. Gillies, Mark A. Chapman, Eric A. Bushong, Thomas J. Deerinck, Mark H. Ellisman, Richard L. Lieber*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Key points: Fibrosis occurs secondary to many skeletal muscle diseases and injuries, and can alter muscle function. It is unknown how collagen, the most abundant extracellular structural protein, alters its organization during fibrosis. Quantitative and qualitative high-magnification electron microscopy shows that collagen is organized into perimysial cables which increase in number in a model of fibrosis, and cables have unique interactions with collagen-producing cells. Fibrotic muscles are stiffer and have a higher concentration of collagen-producing cells. These results improve our understanding of the organization of fibrotic skeletal muscle extracellular matrix and identify novel structures that might be targeted by antifibrotic therapy. Abstract: Skeletal muscle extracellular matrix (ECM) structure and organization are not well understood, yet the ECM plays an important role in normal tissue homeostasis and disease processes. Fibrosis is common to many muscle diseases and is typically quantified based on an increase in ECM collagen. Through the use of multiple imaging modalities and quantitative stereology, we describe the structure and composition of wild-type and fibrotic ECM, we show that collagen in the ECM is organized into large bundles of fibrils, or collagen cables, and the number of these cables (but not their size) increases in desmin knockout muscle (a fibrosis model). The increase in cable number is accompanied by increased muscle stiffness and an increase in the number of collagen producing cells. Unique interactions between ECM cells and collagen cables were also observed and reconstructed by serial block face scanning electron microscopy. These results demonstrate that the muscle ECM is more highly organized than previously reported. Therapeutic strategies for skeletal muscle fibrosis should consider the organization of the ECM to target the structures and cells contributing to fibrotic muscle function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1159-1171
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 15 2017


  • collagen
  • extracellular matrix
  • fibrosis
  • skeletal muscle

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology

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