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Biophys J. 2009 Feb 18;96(4):1566-85. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2008.10.063.

Rheology and confocal reflectance microscopy as probes of mechanical properties and structure during collagen and collagen/hyaluronan self-assembly.

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Department of Chemistry, Columbia University, New York, New York 10027, USA.


In this work, the gelation of three-dimensional collagen and collagen/hyaluronan (HA) composites is studied by time sweep rheology and time lapse confocal reflectance microscopy (CRM). To investigate the complementary nature of these techniques, first collagen gel formation is investigated at concentrations of 0.5, 1.0, and 1.5 mg/mL at 37 degrees C and 32 degrees C. The following parameters are used to describe the self-assembly process in all gels: the crossover time (t(c)), the slope of the growth phase (k(g)), and the arrest time (t(a)). The first two measures are determined by rheology, and the third by CRM. A frequency-independent rheological measure of gelation, t(g), is also measured at 37 degrees C. However, this quantity cannot be straightforwardly determined for gels formed at 32 degrees C, indicating that percolation theory does not fully capture the dynamics of collagen network formation. The effects of collagen concentration and gelation temperature on k(g), t(c), and t(a) as well as on the mechanical properties and structure of these gels both during gelation and at equilibrium are elucidated. Composite collagen/HA gels are also prepared, and their properties are monitored at equilibrium and during gelation at 37 degrees C and 32 degrees C. We show that addition of HA subtly alters mechanical properties and structure of these systems both during the gelation process and at equilibrium. This occurs in a temperature-dependent manner, with the ratio of HA deposited on collagen fibers versus that distributed homogeneously between fibers increasing with decreasing gelation temperature. In addition to providing information on collagen and collagen/HA structure and mechanical properties during gelation, this work shows new ways in which rheology and microscopy can be used complementarily to reveal details of gelation processes.

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