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What are Elastic Fibers?

By Meshell Powell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Elastic fibers are groups or bundles of specific types of proteins that are called elastins. These protein bundles are found in various connective tissues found in the human body. These elastic fibers are found in such structures as blood vessels and elastic cartilage. There are some medical conditions, including high blood pressure and certain heart defects, that can cause the elastic fibers within the body to fail to develop or function normally.

A special kind of cell known as a fibroblast works together with the smooth muscle cells in the arteries of the body to form elastic fibers. There are three primary components of these fibers, elastin, oxytalan, and elaunin. Elastin is the protein found in connective tissue that gives the tissue its stretchy qualities. Oxytalan is a type of connective tissue found in the gums and other tissues of the mouth. Elaunin is a connective tissue component found in the layer of skin known as the dermis and has a close association with the sweat glands of the body.

Scientific evidence suggests that defects in any of the components making up the elastic fibers have the potential to alter and impair the appearance of these fibers. These alterations can lead to a variety of medical conditions, causing a variety of symptoms and complications. While certain cases of heart defects and hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be traced to abnormalities in these fibers, several lesser known conditions are a result of these defects as well.

Dermatolysis is a condition in which the elastic fibers are mutated in such a way that the skin does not have the normal elastic capabilities. This leaves the skin loose, often hanging in what looks like a series of folds. This particular genetic mutation is believed to be inherited for the most part, although some acquired forms have been reported.

Williams syndrome is another medical condition that has been directly linked to a genetic defect during the development of elastic fibers. While mental disabilities and facial defects are present in this condition, these side effects are due to other defective genes that are also present in this disease. The defect involving the elastic fibers leads to a heart defect affecting the aortic valve as well as heart murmurs. Abdominal pain due to conditions such as diverticulitis are common with this disorder as well and may be traced back to the same elastic fiber abnormalities.

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Discussion Comments

By orangey03 — On Jul 20, 2011

I have always heard that the best methods for preventing the effects of aging skin are natural. Products that feature collagen and elastin really don’t do any good, since you need to produce these from the inside.

Foods rich in vitamin C and vitamin K can help boost collagen production. The richest sources are leafy green veggies like cabbage, asparagus, spinach, and fenugreek, as well as citrus fruit, beans, and soy products.

Of course, protecting the skin from too much sun exposure is a must for preserving your collagen and elastin levels. Wearing clothing that provides coverage plus sunscreen on exposed skin can go a long way towards preserving your skin’s elasticity.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 19, 2011

It sounds like the breakdown or strength of elastin fibers can determine how long our hearts will last. Too much elastin could kill us with high blood pressure and stiff arteries, but too litttle could lessen the heart’s function.

Having too much elastin in an artery or heart could make it hard to pump or for blood to flow. It could be likened to trying to blow up a balloon that is already full.

When most people think of elastic fibers, they think of the sagging facial skin that comes with age. I can see now that it is so much more important and involved than that.

By cloudel — On Jul 19, 2011

My adopted brother was born with dermatolysis. His skin hangs in folds like pendulums that swing back and forth, and his birth mother did not want to deal with social issues that would arise when raising a child like that. I am glad she gave him up for adoption, because he is a great big brother, and my family has given him the love he never could have gotten from a home obsessed with appearances.

By his own choice, he is home-schooled. He started out at a public school, but the teasing was just too much. He has his own circle of friends, and he deals with the stares very maturely when they go out together. Dermatolysis is a special challenge, but it may be because of it that he has developed into such a special person.

By Oceana — On Jul 18, 2011

I have a sweet little cousin with Williams syndrome. Fortunately, she doesn’t have abdominal pain, though she does have problems with learning and development, as well as heart issues and facial defects from the problems with her elastic fibers.

The cool thing is that people with Williams syndrome are often very sociable and speak well. They also tend to be musically talented. My cousin is only seven, and she already plays piano beautifully. She is quite popular in her class, despite her weaknesses.

She gives my aunt a new perspective on life with her endearing ways. She thinks outside the box and brings joy to everyone she meets.

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