Mechanical model for a collagen fibril pair in extracellular matrix



Publication Details

Chan, Y., Cox, G. M., Haverkamp, R. G. & Hill, J. M. (2009). Mechanical model for a collagen fibril pair in extracellular matrix. European Biophysics Journal, 38 (4), 487-493.


In this paper, we model the mechanics of a collagen pair in the connective tissue extracellular matrix that exists in abundance throughout animals, including the human body. This connective tissue comprises repeated units of two main structures, namely collagens as well as axial, parallel and regular anionic glycosaminoglycan between collagens. The collagen fibril can be modeled by Hooke’s law whereas anionic glycosaminoglycan behaves more like a rubber-band rod and as such can be better modeled by the worm-like chain model. While both computer simulations and continuum mechanics models have been investigated for the behavior of this connective tissue typically, authors either assume a simple form of the molecular potential energy or entirely ignore the microscopic structure of the connective tissue. Here, we apply basic physical methodologies and simple applied mathematical modeling techniques to describe the collagen pair quantitatively. We found that the growth of fibrils was intimately related to the maximum length of the anionic glycosaminoglycan and the relative displacement of two adjacent fibrils, which in return was closely related to the effectiveness of anionic glycosaminoglycan in transmitting forces between fibrils. These reveal the importance of the anionic glycosaminoglycan in maintaining the structural shape of the connective tissue extracellular matrix and eventually the shape modulus of human tissues. We also found that some macroscopic properties, like the maximum molecular energy and the breaking fraction of the collagen, were also related to the microscopic characteristics of the anionic glycosaminoglycan.

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