Deformation micromechanisms of collagen fibrils under uniaxial tension

Y Tang and R Ballarini and MJ Buehler and SJ Eppell, JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY INTERFACE, 7, 839-850 (2010).

DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2009.0390

Collagen, an essential building block of connective tissues, possesses useful mechanical properties due to its hierarchical structure. However, little is known about the mechanical properties of collagen fibril, an intermediate structure between the collagen molecule and connective tissue. Here, we report the results of systematic molecular dynamics simulations to probe the mechanical response of initially unflawed finite size collagen fibrils subjected to uniaxial tension. The observed deformation mechanisms, associated with rupture and sliding of tropocollagen molecules, are strongly influenced by fibril length, width and cross-linking density. Fibrils containing more than approximately 10 molecules along their length and across their width behave as representative volume elements and exhibit brittle fracture. Shorter fibrils experience a more graceful ductile-like failure. An analytical model is constructed and the results of the molecular modelling are used to find curve-fitted expressions for yield stress, yield strain and fracture strain as functions of fibril structural parameters. Our results for the first time elucidate the size dependence of mechanical failure properties of collagen fibrils. The associated molecular deformation mechanisms allow the full power of traditional material and structural engineering theory to be applied to our understanding of the normal and pathological mechanical behaviours of collagenous tissues under load.

Return to Publications page