Collagen Insulated From Tensile Damage by Domains That Unfold Reversibly: In Situ X-ray Investigation of Mechanical Yield and Damage Repair in the Mussel Byssus

J Struct Biol. 2009 Jul;167(1):47-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2009.03.001. Epub 2009 Mar 9.


The byssal threads of the California mussel, Mytilus californianus, are highly hysteretic, elastomeric fibers that collectively perform a holdfast function in wave-swept rocky seashore habitats. Following cyclic loading past the mechanical yield point, threads exhibit a damage-dependent reduction in mechanical performance. However, the distal portion of the byssal thread is capable of recovering initial material properties through a time-dependent healing process in the absence of active cellular metabolism. Byssal threads are composed almost exclusively of multi-domain hybrid collagens known as preCols, which largely determine the mechanical properties of the thread. Here, the structure-property relationships that govern thread mechanical performance are further probed. The molecular rearrangements that occur during yield and damage repair were investigated using time-resolved in situ wide-angle X-ray diffraction (WAXD) coupled with cyclic tensile loading of threads and through thermally enhanced damage-repair studies. Results indicate that the collagen domains in byssal preCols are mechanically protected by the unfolding of sacrificial non-collagenous domains that refold on a slower time-scale. Time-dependent healing is primarily attributed to stochastic recoupling of broken histidine-metal coordination complexes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Collagen / chemistry
  • Collagen / metabolism*
  • Collagen / physiology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Mytilus / metabolism*
  • Tensile Strength / physiology*
  • X-Ray Diffraction


  • Collagen