Microstructural and mechanical differences between digested collagen–fibrin co-gels and pure collagen and fibrin gels
Collagen and fibrin are important extracellular matrix (ECM) components in the body, providing structural integrity to various tissues. These biopolymers are also common scaffolds used in tissue engineering. This study investigated how co-gelation of collagen and fibrin affected the properties of each individual protein network. Collagen–fibrin co-gels were cast and subsequently digested using either plasmin or collagenase; the microstructure and mechanical behavior of the resulting networks were then compared with the respective pure collagen or fibrin gels of the same protein concentration. The morphologies of the collagen networks were further analyzed via three-dimensional network reconstruction from confocal image z-stacks. Both collagen and fibrin exhibited a decrease in mean fiber diameter when formed in co-gels compared with the pure gels. This microstructural change was accompanied by an increased failure strain and decreased tangent modulus for both collagen and fibrin following selective digestion of the co-gels. In addition, analysis of the reconstructed collagen networks indicated the presence of very long fibers and the clustering of fibrils, resulting in very high connectivities for collagen networks formed in co-gels.
Journal: Acta Biomaterialia - Volume 8, Issue 11, November 2012, Pages 4031–4042