Modeling Fibrillogenesis of Collagen-Mimetic Molecules

AE Hafner and NG Gyori and CA Bench and LK Davis and A Saric, BIOPHYSICAL JOURNAL, 119, 1791-1799 (2020).

DOI: 10.1016/j.bpj.2020.09.013

One of the most robust examples of self-assembly in living organisms is the formation of collagen architectures. Collagen type I molecules are a crucial component of the extracellular matrix, where they self-assemble into fibrils of well-defined axial striped patterns. This striped fibrillar pattern is preserved across the animal kingdom and is important for the determination of cell phenotype, cell adhesion, and tissue regulation and signaling. The understanding of the physical processes that determine such a robust morphology of self-assembled collagen fibrils is currently almost completely missing. Here, we develop a minimal coarse-grained computational model to identify the physical principles of the assembly of collagen-mimetic molecules. We find that screened electrostatic interactions can drive the formation of collagen-like filaments of well-defined striped morphologies. The fibril axial pattern is determined solely by the distribution of charges on the molecule and is robust to the changes in protein concentration, monomer rigidity, and environmental conditions. We show that the striped fibrillar pattern cannot be easily predicted from the interactions between two monomers but is an emergent result of multibody interactions. Our results can help address collagen remodeling in diseases and aging and guide the design of collagen scaffolds for biotechnological applications.

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