The surface layer of synovial interstitium lining the rabbit knee was studied by transmission electron microscopy. Over a distance of 2-3 microns normal to the surface the interstitium contained a network of fine microfibrils (diameter 9.3 (0.7) nm, mean (SEM] which was quite dense in places (fractional area of projection 0.189 (0.023], and stained with ruthenium red. Periodic collagen fibrils were relatively scanty and fine (diameter 32 (2) nm) in this surface layer. Broad cross-striated bundles occurred in association with the microfibrils and B cells. These fibrous long spacing bundles (FLS) had a single period of 92.8 (2.8) nm with a broad dark band (37.6) (1.8) nm--so called 'zebra collagen'. Both the periodicity of the FLS and the morphological characteristics of the microfibrils are typical of type VI collagen, a widespread constituent of soft connective tissues. The functional importance of the inner microfibril network is likely to be mechanical, biochemical (glycosaminoglycan and glycoprotein entrapment), and to a very minor degree hydraulic resistance.
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