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Biomech Model Mechanobiol. 2013 Nov;12(6):1195-204. doi: 10.1007/s10237-013-0475-2. Epub 2013 Feb 12.

Micromechanical model of a surrogate for collagenous soft tissues: development, validation and analysis of mesoscale size effects.

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Department of Bioengineering, and Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.


Aligned, collagenous tissues such as tendons and ligaments are composed primarily of water and type I collagen, organized hierarchically into nanoscale fibrils, microscale fibers and mesoscale fascicles. Force transfer across scales is complex and poorly understood. Since innervation, the vasculature, damage mechanisms and mechanotransduction occur at the microscale and mesoscale, understanding multiscale interactions is of high importance. This study used a physical model in combination with a computational model to isolate and examine the mechanisms of force transfer between scales. A collagen-based surrogate served as the physical model. The surrogate consisted of extruded collagen fibers embedded within a collagen gel matrix. A micromechanical finite element model of the surrogate was validated using tensile test data that were recorded using a custom tensile testing device mounted on a confocal microscope. Results demonstrated that the experimentally measured macroscale strain was not representative of the microscale strain, which was highly inhomogeneous. The micromechanical model, in combination with a macroscopic continuum model, revealed that the microscale inhomogeneity resulted from size effects in the presence of a constrained boundary. A sensitivity study indicated that significant scale effects would be present over a range of physiologically relevant inter-fiber spacing values and matrix material properties. The results indicate that the traditional continuum assumption is not valid for describing the macroscale behavior of the surrogate and that boundary-induced size effects are present.

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