Fibrin fibers, which are ~100 nm in diameter, are the major structural component of a blood clot. The mechanical properties of single fibrin fibers determine the behavior of a blood clot and, thus, have a critical influence on heart attacks, strokes, and embolisms. Cross-linking is thought to fortify blood clots; though, the role of α-α cross-links in fibrin fiber assembly and their effect on the mechanical properties of single fibrin fibers are poorly understood. To address this knowledge gap, we used a combined fluorescence and atomic force microscope technique to determine the stiffness (modulus), extensibility, and elasticity of individual, uncross-linked, exclusively α-α cross-linked (γQ398N/Q399N/K406R fibrinogen variant), and completely cross-linked fibrin fibers. Exclusive α-α cross-linking results in 2.5× stiffer and 1.5× more elastic fibers, whereas full cross-linking results in 3.75× stiffer, 1.2× more elastic, but 1.2× less extensible fibers, as compared to uncross-linked fibers. On the basis of these results and data from the literature, we propose a model in which the α-C region plays a significant role in inter- and intralinking of fibrin molecules and protofibrils, endowing fibrin fibers with increased stiffness and elasticity.
Copyright © 2012 Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.