Collagen vs. Elastin Fibers

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you're going to learn about a couple of important proteins. These are collagen and elastin. You'll learn about their basic but important structure and function as well as how they differ from one another.

Connective Tissue

What do you think the following have in common?

  • Fat
  • Tendons
  • Cartilage

They seem quite a bit different in terms of what they would look like or what their function is. However, they are all types of connective tissues. Connective tissue is a kind of tissue that provides support for other tissue types or allows for movement.

This kind of tissue type is made up of a lot of different components and two of these components are collagen and elastin. You're going to learn about them in this lesson.

Collagen

You know those really long metal cables that help support suspension bridges? Well, those cables are really good at counteracting tensile forces. These cables are strong and have some but very little give when compared to something like a rubber band.

These cables are like collagen. Collagen is a term for a wide variety of similar proteins that helps make up connective tissue. Like a suspension bridge cable, collagen imparts toughness and strength to a connective tissue as well as a little bit of flexibility, but not much. In other words, it's collagen that helps keep your skin from tearing apart when your kid brother pinches you.

Collagen is made by cells called fibroblasts. Collagen is also an extracellular protein. In other words, it's found outside of the cells that compose connective tissue. Its structure is not too difficult to grasp. It's made up of three chains of proteins that twist around one another in a helical shape. You can think of it as string. Have you ever pulled string apart? Most string is actually composed of several strands wrapped around one another in a helical shape. That's sort of what collagen's structure is like.

Elastin

In contrast to collagen, there is another protein that is far more flexible but not as strong as collagen. This protein is called elastin. This protein is like a rubber band. Surely you've stretched a rubber band before! What happened after you let the rubber band go with one of your hands? It sprang back into shape, right? That's what elastin allows your connective tissues to do, spring back into shape. So when your kid brother pinches you, the skin doesn't stay pinched after he lets go. Instead, it goes back to its original shape thanks to elastin.

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