Collagen type I and procollagen type III were localized at the ultrastructural level on ultrathin frozen sections of rat liver by the protein A–gold technique using affinity-purified primary antibodies. Both collagen type I and procollagen type III were localized on nearly all solitary and bundled fibrils in the space of Disse. Simultaneous localization of collagen type I and procollagen type III by a double-labeling procedure using protein A–gold probes of different sizes unequivocally demonstrated the presence of both collagens in the same fibrils.
Measurement of the diameter of large numbers of collagen fibrils in the space of Disse of the rat liver showed a unimodal distribution of the fibril diameters around an average value of 62.4 nm (S.D. = 12.8 nm), and 91% of the collagen bundles contained less than 30 fibrils. Additional measurements on epoxy resin–embedded material of five biopsy specimens of normal human liver showed a comparable unimodal distribution of the fibril diameters around an average value of 57.2 nm (S.D. = 9.6 nm), and 74% of the bundles contained less than 60 fibrils. The latter observation demonstrates that human liver contains broader interstitial collagen bundles than rat liver.
From these results, we conclude that the space of Disse of normal rat and human liver contains a uniform population of striated interstitial collagen fibrils. In the rat liver, these fibrils contain both collagen type I and procollagen type III. Therefore the concept that procollagen type III is predominantly localized in small diameter fibrils or bundles, whereas collagen type I is preferentially localized in thick ones, does not hold. (HEPATOLOGY 1990;12:233–241).