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J Biomed Mater Res B Appl Biomater. 2008 Oct;87(1):264-85. doi: 10.1002/jbm.b.31078.

Guide to collagen characterization for biomaterial studies.

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  • 1Departments of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts 02155, USA.


The structure and remodeling of collagen in vivo is critical to the pathology and healing of many human diseases, as well as to normal tissue development and regeneration. In addition, collagen matrices in the form of fibers, coatings, and films are used extensively in biomaterial and biomedical applications. The specific properties of these matrices, both in terms of physical and chemical characteristics, have a direct impact on cellular adhesion, spreading, and proliferation rates, and ultimately on the rate and extent of new extracellular matrix formation in vitro or in vivo. In recent studies, it has also been shown that collagen matrix structure has a major impact on cell and tissue outcomes related to cellular aging and differentiation potential. Collagen structure is complex because of both diversity of source materials, chemistry, and structural hierarchy. With such significant impact of collagen features on biological outcomes, it becomes essential to consider an appropriate set of analytical tools, or guide, so that collagens attained from commercial vendors are characterized in a comparative manner as an integral part of studies focused on biological parameters. The analysis should include as a starting point: (a) structural detail-mainly focused on molecular mass, purity, helical content, and bulk thermal properties, (b) chemical features-mainly focused on surface elemental analysis and hydrophobicity, and (c) morphological features at different length scales. The application of these analytical techniques to the characterization of collagen biomaterial matrices is critical in order to appropriately correlate biological responses from different studies with experimental outcomes in vitro or in vivo. As a case study, the analytical tools employed for collagen biomaterial studies are reviewed in the context of collagen remodeling by fibroblasts. The goal is to highlight the necessity of understanding collagen biophysical and chemical features as a prerequisite to (a) studies with cells and tissue formation, and (b) suggest modes to establish comparative outcomes for studies conducted in different laboratories.

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