Mollusk shell formation: Mapping the distribution of organic matrix components underlying a single aragonitic tablet in nacre

Fabio Nudelman, Bat Ami Gotliv, Lia Addadi, Steve Weiner

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Control over mineral formation in mollusk shells is exerted by the macromolecules of the organic matrix. Using histochemical methods, we mapped the carboxylates and sulfates of proteins and polysaccharides on the surfaces of decalcified interlamellar matrices from the nacreous shell layer of the cephalopod Nautilus pompilius, expanding upon an earlier study by Crenshaw and Ristedt [Crenshaw, M.A., Ristedt, H., 1976. The histochemical localization of reactive groups in septal nacre from Nautilus pompilius. In: Watabe, N., Wilbur, K.M. (Ed.), The Mechanisms of Mineralization in the Invertebrates and Plants. University of South Carolina Press, Colombia, pp. 355-367]. We observed four different zones underlying a single crystal: (1) a central spot rich in carboxylates; (2) a central ring-shaped area rich in sulfates; (3) an area between the central nucleation region and the imprint periphery containing carboxylates, and (4) the intertabular matrix, rich in carboxylates and sulfates. We also mapped matrix functional groups on the nacreous matrix surfaces of the bivalve Atrina rigida, but did not identify well-defined zones. Immuno-mapping of the constituents of the aragonite-nucleating protein fraction from Atrina nacre showed that these macromolecules are located both in the intertabular matrix and in the center of the crystal imprints for both Atrina and Nautilus matrix surfaces. Their presence at the latter location is consistent with their purported role in aragonite nucleation. The observed differentiation in the distribution of matrix components and their functional groups shows that the different stages of single crystal growth are highly controlled by the matrix.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-187
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Structural Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Dr. E. Klein for her help in the electron microscopy work. We thank the Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure and Assembly, Weizmann Institute, for financial support. L.A. is the incumbent of the Dorothy-and-Patrick-Gorman professorial chair of Biological Ultrastructure, and S.W. is the incumbent of the Dr.-Trude Burchardt professorial chair of structural biology.


  • Biomineralization
  • Immuno-histochemical labeling
  • Matrix macromolecules
  • Mollusk shell nacre
  • Nucleation site


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