Stretch-induced network reconfiguration of collagen fibres in the human facet capsular ligament, 2016

Topics: collagen, fibre realignment, facet capsular ligament, community detection, time-dependent network

Authors: Sijia Zhang, Danielle S Bassett, Beth A Winkelstein


Biomaterials can display complex spatial patterns of cellular responses to external forces. Revealing and predicting the role of these patterns in material failure require an understanding of the statistical dependencies between spatially distributed changes in a cell’s local biomechanical environment, including altered collagen fibre kinematics in the extracellular matrix. Here, we develop and apply a novel extension of network science methods to investigate how excessive tensile stretch of the human cervical facet capsular ligament (FCL), a common source of chronic neck pain, affects the local reorganization of collagen fibres. We define collagen alignment networks based on similarity in fibre alignment angles measured by quantitative polarized light imaging. We quantify the reorganization of these networks following macroscopic loading by describing the dynamic reconfiguration of network communities, regions of the material that display similar fibre alignment angles. Alterations in community structure occur smoothly over time, indicating coordinated adaptation of fibres to loading. Moreover, flexibility, a measure of network reconfiguration, tracks the loss of FCL’s mechanical integrity at the onset of anomalous realignment (AR) and regions of AR display altered community structure. These findings use novel network-based techniques to explain abnormal collagen fibre reorganization, a dynamic and coordinated multivariate process underlying tissue failure.

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