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collagen fibril nanomechanics

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Laurent Kreplak
added 2 research items
At the most fundamental level, collagen fibrils are rope-like structures assembled from triple- helical collagen molecules. One key structural characteristic of the fibril is the 67nm D-band pattern arising from the quarter-stagger packing of the molecules. Our current understanding of the structural changes induced by tensile loading of collagen fibrils comes mostly from atomistic molecular dynamics simulations and tissue level experiments. Tensile testing of individual fibrils is an upcoming field of investigation, and thus far structural analysis has always taken place af- ter the fibrils have been ruptured or strained and subsequently dried. There is therefore a gap in understanding how the structure of collagen fibrils transforms under tension, and how this re- organization affects the functionality of collagen fibrils within tissues. In this study, atomic force microscopy based nanomechanical mapping is introduced to image hydrated collagen fibrils ab- sorbed to an elastic substrate. Upon stretching the substrate between 5 and 30%, we observe a radial stiffening consistent with the fibrils being under tension. This is associated with an increase in D-band length. In addition the indentation modulus contrast associated with the D-band pattern increases linearly with D-band strain. These results provide direct confirmation of, and new infor- mation on the axially inhomogeneous structural response of collagen fibrils to applied tension as previously proposed on the basis of X-ray scattering experiments on stretched tissues. Further- more our approach opens the road for studying the structural impacts of tension on cell-matrix interactions at the molecular level.
Mechanical testing of connective tissues such as tendons and ligaments can lead to collagen denaturation even in the absence of macroscale damage. The following tensile loading protocols, ramp loading to failure, overloading and release, cyclic overloading and cyclic fatigue loading, all yield molecular damage in rat or bovine tendons. Single collagen fibrils extracted from the common digital extensor tendon of the forelimb also show molecular damage after tensile loading to failure. Using fibrils from the same source we assess changes to the molecular and supramolecular structure after tensile stress relaxation at strains between 4 and 22% followed by release. We observe no broken fibril and no significant change in D-band spacing. However, we observe significant binding of a fluorescent collagen hybridizing peptide to the fibrils indicating that collagen denaturation occurs in a strain dependent way for relaxation times between 1s and 1500s. We also show that peptide binding is associated with a decrease of the cross-sectional area of the fibrils providing an estimate of the dry volume loss due to molecular denaturation as well as an estimate of the mechanical energy density required, 25-110 MJ/m3. In summary we show that collagen molecular damage can occur in the absence of fibril failure and without visible changes to the supramolecular structure.
Laurent Kreplak
added 13 research items
Recorded video of a tensile experiment on a single collagen fibril. (AVI)
Tendons exposed to tensile overload show a structural alteration at the fibril scale termed discrete plasticity. Serial kinks appear along individual collagen fibrils that are susceptible to enzymatic digestion and are thermally unstable. Using atomic force microscopy we mapped the topography and mechanical properties in dehydrated and hydrated states of 25 control fibrils and 25 fibrils displaying periodic kinks, extracted from overloaded bovine tail tendons. Using the measured modulus of the hydrated fibrils as a probe of molecular density, we observed a non-linear negative correlation between molecular density and kink density of individual fibrils. This is accompanied by an increase in water uptake with kink density and a doubling of the coefficient of variation of the modulus between kinked, and control fibrils. The mechanical property maps of kinked collagen fibrils show radial heterogeneity that can be modelled as a high-density core surrounded by a low-density shell. The core of the fibril contains the kink structures characteristic of discrete plasticity; separated by inter-kink regions, which often retain the D-banding structure. We propose that the shell and kink structures mimic characteristic damage motifs observed in laid rope strands.
Collagen fibrils play an important role in the human body, providing tensile strength to connective tissues. These fibrils are characterized by a banding pattern with a D-period of 67 nm. The proposed origin of the D-period is the internal staggering of tropocollagen molecules within the fibril, leading to gap and overlap regions and a corresponding periodic density fluctuation. Using an atomic force microscope high-resolution modulus maps of collagen fibril segments, up to 80 ?m in length, were acquired at indentation speeds around 10(5) nm/s. The maps revealed a periodic modulation corresponding to the D-period as well as previously undocumented micrometer scale fluctuations. Further analysis revealed a 4/5, gap/overlap, ratio in the measured modulus providing further support for the quarter-staggered model of collagen fibril axial structure. The modulus values obtained at indentation speeds around 10(5) nm/s are significantly larger than those previously reported. Probing the effect of indentation speed over four decades reveals two distinct logarithmic regimes of the measured modulus and point to the existence of a characteristic molecular relaxation time around 0.1 ms. Furthermore, collagen fibrils exposed to temperatures between 50 and 62°C and cooled back to room temperature show a sharp decrease in modulus and a sharp increase in fibril diameter. This is also associated with a disappearance of the D-period and the appearance of twisted subfibrils with a pitch in the micrometer range. Based on all these data and a similar behavior observed for cross-linked polymer networks below the glass transition temperature, we propose that collagen I fibrils may be in a glassy state while hydrated.