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Tropocollagen springs allow collagen fibrils to stretch elastically

Bell, James S. ORCID:, Hayes, Sally ORCID:, Whitford, Charles, Sanchez-Weatherby, Juan, Shebanova, Olga, Terrill, Nick J., Sorensen, Thomas, Elsheikh, Ahmed and Meek, Keith M. ORCID: 2022. Tropocollagen springs allow collagen fibrils to stretch elastically. Acta Biomaterialia 142 , pp. 185-193. 10.1016/j.actbio.2022.01.041

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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.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Optometry and Vision Sciences
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the CC BY license (
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 1742-7061
Funders: MRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 31 January 2022
Date of Acceptance: 18 January 2022
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2024 02:07

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