Collagen is a force-bearing, hierarchical structural protein important to all connective tissue. In tendon collagen, high load even below macroscopic failure level creates mechanoradicals by homolytic bond scission, similar to polymers. The location and type of initial rupture sites critically decide on both the mechanical and chemical impact of these micro-ruptures on the tissue, but are yet to be explored. We here use scale-bridging simulations supported by gel electrophoresis and mass spectrometry to determine breakage points in collagen. We find collagen crosslinks, as opposed to the backbone, to harbor the weakest bonds, with one particular bond in trivalent crosslinks as the most dominant rupture site. We identify this bond as sacrificial, rupturing prior to other bonds while maintaining the material’s integrity. Also, collagen’s weak bonds funnel ruptures such that the potentially harmful mechanoradicals are readily stabilized. Our results suggest this unique failure mode of collagen to be tailored towards combatting an early onset of macroscopic failure and material ageing.
Publication type: Journal
Journal: Nature Communications
Publisher: Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Created: 21st Oct 2022 at 17:53
Last updated: 14th Apr 2023 at 06:38