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      Osmotic pressure induced tensile forces in tendon collagen

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          Water is an important component of collagen in tendons, but its role for the function of this load-carrying protein structure is poorly understood. Here we use a combination of multi-scale experimentation and computation to show that water is an integral part of the collagen molecule, which changes conformation upon water removal. The consequence is a shortening of the molecule that translates into tensile stresses in the range of several to almost 100 MPa, largely surpassing those of about 0.3 MPa generated by contractile muscles. Although a complete drying of collagen would be relevant for technical applications, such as the fabrication of leather or parchment, stresses comparable to muscle contraction already occur at small osmotic pressures common in biological environments. We suggest, therefore, that water-generated tensile stresses may play a role in living collagen-based materials such as tendon or bone.

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            The variation in isometric tension with sarcomere length in vertebrate muscle fibres

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              Microfibrillar structure of type I collagen in situ.

              The fibrous collagens are ubiquitous in animals and form the structural basis of all mammalian connective tissues, including those of the heart, vasculature, skin, cornea, bones, and tendons. However, in comparison with what is known of their production, turnover and physiological structure, very little is understood regarding the three-dimensional arrangement of collagen molecules in naturally occurring fibrils. This knowledge may provide insight into key biological processes such as fibrillo-genesis and tissue remodeling and into diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Here we present a crystallographic determination of the collagen type I supermolecular structure, where the molecular conformation of each collagen segment found within the naturally occurring crystallographic unit cell has been defined (P1, a approximately 40.0 A, b approximately 27.0 A, c approximately 678 A, alpha approximately 89.2 degrees , beta approximately 94.6 degrees , gamma approximately 105.6 degrees ; reflections: 414, overlapping, 232, and nonoverlapping, 182; resolution, 5.16 A axial and 11.1 A equatorial). This structure shows that the molecular packing topology of the collagen molecule is such that packing neighbors are arranged to form a supertwisted (discontinuous) right-handed microfibril that interdigitates with neighboring microfibrils. This interdigitation establishes the crystallographic superlattice, which is formed of quasihexagonally packed collagen molecules. In addition, the molecular packing structure of collagen shown here provides information concerning the potential modes of action of two prominent molecules involved in human health and disease: decorin and the Matrix Metallo-Proteinase (MMP) collagenase.

                Author and article information

                Nature Communications
                Nat Commun
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                May 2015
                January 22 2015
                May 2015
                : 6
                : 1
                © 2015



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