Advanced-Glycation Endproducts: How cross-linking properties affect the collagen fibril behavior

J Kamml and C Acevedo and DS Kammer, JOURNAL OF THE MECHANICAL BEHAVIOR OF BIOMEDICAL MATERIALS, 148, 106198 (2023).

DOI: 10.1016/j.jmbbm.2023.106198

Advanced-Glycation-Endproducts (AGEs) are known to be a major cause of impaired tissue material properties. In collagen fibrils, which constitute a major building component of human tissue, these AGEs appear as fibrillar cross-links. It has been shown that when AGEs accumulate in collagen fibrils, a process often caused by diabetes and aging, the mechanical properties of the collagen fibril are altered. However, current knowledge about the mechanical properties of different types of AGEs, and their quantity in collagen fibrils is limited owing to the scarcity of available experimental data. Consequently, the precise relationship between the nano-scale cross-link properties, which differ from type to type, their density in collagen fibrils, and the mechanical properties of the collagen fibrils at larger scales remains poorly understood. In our study, we use coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations and perform destructive tensile tests on collagen fibrils to evaluate the effect of different cross-link densities and their mechanical properties on collagen fibril deformation and fracture behavior. We observe that the collagen fibril stiffens at high strain levels when either the AGEs density or the loading energy capacity of AGEs are increased. Based on our results, we demonstrate that this stiffening is caused by a mechanism that favors energy absorption via stretching rather than inter-molecular sliding. Hence, in these cross- linked collagen fibrils, the absorbed energy is stored rather than dissipated through friction, resulting in brittle fracture upon fibrillar failure. Further, by varying multiple AGEs nano-scale parameters, we show that the AGEs loading energy capacity is, aside from their density in the fibril, the unique factor determining the effect of different types of AGEs on the mechanical behavior of collagen fibrils. Our results show that knowing AGEs properties is crucial for a better understanding of the nano-scale origin of impaired tissue behavior. We further suggest that future experimental investigations should focus on the quantification of the loading energy capacity of AGEs as a key property for their influence on collagen fibrils.

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