Fibrin is a protein polymer that forms the viscoelastic scaffold of blood clots and thrombi. Despite the critical importance of fibrin deformability for outcomes of bleeding and thrombosis, the structural origins of the clot's elasticity and plasticity remain largely unknown. However, there is substantial evidence that unfolding of fibrin is an important part of the mechanism. We used Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to reveal force-induced changes in the secondary structure of hydrated fibrin clots made of human blood plasma in vitro. When extended or compressed, fibrin showed a shift of absorbance intensity mainly in the amide I band (1600-1700 cm(-1)) as well as in the amide II and III bands, indicating an increase of the β-sheets and a corresponding reduction of the α-helices. The structural conversions correlated directly with the strain or pressure and were partially reversible at the conditions applied. The additional absorbance observed at 1612-1624 cm(-1) was characteristic of the nascent interchain β-sheets, consistent with protein aggregation and fiber bundling during clot deformation observed using scanning electron microscopy. We conclude that under extension and/or compression an α-helix to β-sheet conversion of the coiled-coils occurs in the fibrin clot as a part of forced protein unfolding.
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