Collagen fibrils: nanoscale ropes

L. Bozec, G.H.M. van der Heijden & M. Horton

The formation of collagen fibrils from staggered repeats of individual molecules has become 'accepted' wisdom. However for over thirty years now, such a model has failed to resolve several structural and functional questions. In a novel approach, it was found, using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), that tendon collagen fibrils are comprised of a spiral disposition of subcomponents - that is, they are similar to macroscale ropes. Consequently, this arrangement was modelled and confirmed using elastic rod theory. This work provides a new insight into collagen fibril structure and will have wide application - from the design of scaffolds for tissue engineering and a better understanding of pathogenesis of diseases of bone and tendon, to the conservation of irreplaceable parchment-based museum exhibits.

keywords: atomic force microscopy, collagen, D-banding, elastic rod modelling

Biophysical Journal 92, 70-75 (2007)