Fibrin is a protein polymer that forms a 3D filamentous network, a major structural component of protective physiological blood clots as well as life threatening pathological thrombi. It plays an important role in wound healing, tissue regeneration and is widely employed in surgery as a sealant and in tissue engineering as a scaffold. The goal of this study was to establish correlations between structural changes and mechanical responses of fibrin networks exposed to compressive loads. Rheological measurements revealed nonlinear changes of fibrin network viscoelastic properties under dynamic compression, resulting in network softening followed by its dramatic hardening. Repeated compression/decompression enhanced fibrin clot stiffening. Combining fibrin network rheology with simultaneous confocal microscopy provided direct evidence of structural modulations underlying nonlinear viscoelasticity of compressed fibrin networks. Fibrin clot softening in response to compression strongly correlated with fiber buckling and bending, while hardening was associated with fibrin network densification. Our results suggest a complex interplay of entropic and enthalpic mechanisms accompanying structural changes and accounting for the nonlinear mechanical response in fibrin networks undergoing compressive deformations. These findings provide new insight into the fibrin clot structural mechanics and can be useful for designing fibrin-based biomaterials with modulated viscoelastic properties.
Keywords: Compression; Confocal microscopy; Fibrin networks; Mechanical response; Network structure; Rheology.
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