Tropocollagen springs allow collagen fibrils to stretch elastically

James S. Bell*, Sally Hayes, Charles Whitford, Juan Sanchez-Weatherby, Olga Shebanova, Nick J. Terrill, Thomas L.M. Sørensen, Ahmed Elsheikh, Keith M. Meek

*Corresponding author af dette arbejde

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskrift/Konferencebidrag i tidsskrift /Bidrag til avisTidsskriftartikelForskningpeer review

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The mechanical properties of connective tissues are tailored to their specific function, and changes can lead to dysfunction and pathology. In most mammalian tissues the mechanical environment is governed by the micro- and nano-scale structure of collagen and its interaction with other tissue components, however these hierarchical properties remain poorly understood. In this study we use the human cornea as a model system to characterise and quantify the dominant deformation mechanisms of connective tissue in response to cyclic loads of physiological magnitude. Synchronised biomechanical testing, x-ray scattering and 3D digital image correlation revealed the presence of two dominant mechanisms: collagen fibril elongation due to a largely elastic, spring-like straightening of tropocollagen supramolecular twist, and a more viscous straightening of fibril crimp that gradually increased over successive loading cycles. The distinct mechanical properties of the two mechanisms suggest they have separate roles in vivo. The elastic, spring-like mechanism is fast-acting and likely responds to stresses associated with the cardiac cycle, while the more viscous crimp mechanism will respond to slower processes, such as postural stresses. It is anticipated that these findings will have broad applicability to understanding the normal and pathological functioning of other connective tissues such as skin and blood vessels that exhibit both helical structures and crimp. Statement of significance: The tropocollagen spring mechanism allows collagen fibrils from some tissues to elongate significantly under small loads, and its recent discovery has the potential to change our fundamental understanding of how tissue deforms. This time-resolved study quantifies the contribution of the spring mechanism to the local strain in stretched tissue and compares it to the contribution associated with the straightening of fibril waviness, the widely accepted primary low-load strain mechanism. The spring mechanism contributed more to the local tissue strain than fibril straightening, and was found to be elastic while fibril straightening was more viscous. The results suggest that the viscoelastic behaviour of a biomaterial is controlled, at least in part, by the relative amount of fibril-scale crimp and tropocollagen supramolecular twist.

TidsskriftActa Biomaterialia
Sider (fra-til)185-193
Antal sider9
StatusUdgivet - apr. 2022


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