Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 1023–1033 | Cite as

Heterogeneous nanomechanical properties of type I collagen in longitudinal direction

  • Ming Tang
  • Tong Li
  • Neha S. Gandhi
  • Kevin Burrage
  • YuanTong GuEmail author
Original Paper


Collagen is an abundant structural biopolymer in mammal vertebrates, providing structural support as well as mechanical integrity for connective tissues such as bone, ligament, and tendon. The mechanical behaviours of these tissues are determined by the nanomechanics of their structures at different hierarchies and the role of collagen structures in the extracellular matrix. Some studies revealed that there is significant microstructural difference in the longitudinal direction of the collagen fibril, which challenges the conventional rod-like assumption prevalently adopted in the existing studies. Motivated by this discrepancy, in this study, we investigated the longitudinal heterogeneous nanomechanical properties of type I collagen molecule to probe the origin of the longitudinal heterogeneity of the collagen fibril at the molecular level. A full length type I collagen molecule structure was built based on the experimentally calibrated nanostructure. Then, a suitable strain rate was determined for stretching the three intact ‘gap’ regions and three intact ‘overlap’ regions of the collagen molecule. Further, the nanomechanical properties of the six collagen molecule segments were characterized by performing steered molecular dynamics simulations, using the obtained suitable strain rate in modelling. The results indicate that this computational model can be used to capture the mechanical behaviour of the collagen molecule under physiological stress conditions. Moreover, the ‘gap’ regions show a lower stiffness and undergo a slightly lager strain in the unwinding process, compared to the ‘overlap’ regions of the collagen molecule. This investigation provides insights into the origin of the longitudinal heterogeneity of collagen fibrils at the molecular level and suggests that it is of significant importance to consider the longitudinal heterogeneous mechanical properties of the collagen molecule in the development of coarse-grained models of collagen-related tissues.


Collagen molecules Gap and overlap region Mechanical heterogeneity Young’s modulus Steered molecular dynamics 



The authors thank Joseph Orgel (Center For Molecular Study Of Condensed Soft Matter, Pritzker Institute of Biomedical Science and Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology and Argonne National Lab, USA) for his help on dividing the gap and overlap regions of the collagen molecule. This research was funded by ARC Discovery Project (DP150100828). The High Performance Computer resources provided by Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are gratefully acknowledged. Also the financial support of China Scholarship Council (CSC) scholarship from Chinese government and Top-up scholarship from QUT are greatly appreciated.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Chemistry Physics and Mechanical EngineeringQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Composite MaterialUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  3. 3.School of Mathematical SciencesQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia
  4. 4.ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical FrontiersQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

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