Viscoelastic properties of acid- and alkaline-treated human dermis: a correlation between total surface charge and elastic modulus

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One of the major mechanical functions of collagenous tissues is the storage, transmission and dissipation of elastic energy during mechanical deformation. In skin, mechanical energy is stored during loading and then is transmitted and dissipated, which protects skin from mechanical failure. Thus energy storage (elastic properties) and dissipation (viscous properties) are important characteristics of extracellular matrices.


A uniaxial incremental stress relaxation test method has been used to characterize the time-dependent (viscous) and time-independent (elastic) properties of human dermis. Viscoelasticity was investigated in processed human dermis that was equilibrated at pHs of 3.0, 7.4 and 11.0 in an effort to study the link between electrostatic interactions within the collagen matrix and macroscopic tissue properties.


Our results show that the solution pH and the charge on collagen significantly affected the high-strain elastic behavior of dermis; the elastic behavior of skin has previously been shown to be directly correlated with axial stretching of the collagen triple helix in crosslinked collagen fibrils. A positive linear correlation existed between the high-strain elastic modulus and both pH (R2=0.96) and the total number of charged residues on collagen (R2=0.93). These results provide in vitro/ex vivo evidence that charged groups on the surface of collagen molecules in processed human skin influence the high-strain elastic properties of dermis and are likely to be involved in elastic energy storage.


It is proposed that the pH and charged residue dependency of the elastic modulus suggests that charged pair interactions and repulsions within and between collagen molecules are involved in elastic energy storage during stretching at high strains. It is hypothesized that elastic energy storage is associated with the stretching of pairs of charged amino acid residues that are found primarily in the flexible regions of collagen molecules.

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