Structural Features and Nonlinear Rheology of Self-Assembled Networks of Cross-Linked Semiflexible Polymers

S Syed and FC MacKintosh and JL Shivers, JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY B, 126, 10741-10749 (2022).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.2c05439

Disordered networks of semiflexible filaments are common support structures in biology. Familiar examples include fibrous matrices in blood clots, bacterial biofilms, and essential components of cells and tissues of plants, animals, and fungi. Despite the ubiquity of these networks in biomaterials, we have only a limited understanding of the relationship between their structural features and their highly strain- sensitive mechanical properties. In this work, we perform simulations of three-dimensional networks produced by the irreversible formation of cross-links between linker-decorated semiflexible filaments. We characterize the structure of networks formed by a simple diffusion- dependent assembly process and measure their associated steady-state rheological features at finite temperature over a range of applied prestrains that encompass the strain-stiffening transition. We quantify the dependence of network connectivity on cross-linker availability and detail the associated connectivity dependence of both linear elasticity and nonlinear strain-stiffening behavior, drawing comparisons with prior experimental measurements of the cross-linker concentration-dependent elasticity of actin gels.

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