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Bone protects proteins over thousands of years: Extraction, analysis, and interpretation of extracellular matrix proteins in archeological skeletal remains



In a good state of preservation, bone conserves the entire protein pattern of extracellular bone matrix proteins over thousands of years. The quality of the profiles of matrix proteins isolated from ancient bones (ranging from the pre-Pottery Neolithic Phase to Early Modern Times from different archaeological sites in different geographical areas), separated by electrophoresis, is as good as those from recent bones. Molecules arising from collagenous proteins (e.g., collagen type I), from the noncollagenous group (e.g., osteonectin), and from the immune system (e.g., immunoglobulin G) were identified in Western blots by specific antibodies. A comparative study of the immunoglobulin G content of the bones of five prehistoric children showed the lowest immunoglobulin G content in a child who suffered from chronic scurvy. Ancient bone proteins were also separated by two-dimensional electrophoresis. This technique makes fractionation of the complex protein mixtures of extracellular bone matrix more reproducible. Bone retains a chemical memory of earlier metabolic stimuli in its configuration of collagenous and noncollagenous proteins. In combination with the results of the microscopic examination of ancient bone, it should be possible to obtain more reliable information on the history and the evolution of diseases, based on analysis of intact proteins. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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