Strength of a weak bond connecting flexible polymer chains

Biophys J. 1999 May;76(5):2439-47. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77399-6.


Bond dissociation under steadily rising force occurs most frequently at a time governed by the rate of loading (Evans and Ritchie, 1997 Biophys. J. 72:1541-1555). Multiplied by the loading rate, the breakage time specifies the force for most frequent failure (called bond strength) that obeys the same dependence on loading rate. The spectrum of bond strength versus log(loading rate) provides an image of the energy landscape traversed in the course of unbonding. However, when a weak bond is connected to very compliant elements like long polymers, the load applied to the bond does not rise steadily under constant pulling speed. Because of nonsteady loading, the most frequent breakage force can differ significantly from that of a bond loaded at constant rate through stiff linkages. Using generic models for wormlike and freely jointed chains, we have analyzed the kinetic process of failure for a bond loaded by pulling the polymer linkages at constant speed. We find that when linked by either type of polymer chain, a bond is likely to fail at lower force under steady separation than through stiff linkages. Quite unexpectedly, a discontinuous jump can occur in bond strength at slow separation speed in the case of long polymer linkages. We demonstrate that the predictions of strength versus log(loading rate) can rationalize conflicting results obtained recently for unfolding Ig domains along muscle titin with different force techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biophysical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Biopolymers / chemistry*
  • Connectin
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force
  • Models, Chemical
  • Muscle Proteins / chemistry
  • Protein Folding
  • Protein Kinases / chemistry
  • Stochastic Processes
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Thermodynamics


  • Biopolymers
  • Connectin
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Protein Kinases