Elasticity of fibrous networks under uniaxial prestress

Soft Matter. 2016 Jun 14;12(22):5050-60. doi: 10.1039/c6sm00606j. Epub 2016 May 13.


We present theoretical and experimental studies of the elastic response of fibrous networks subjected to uniaxial strain. Uniaxial compression or extension is applied to extracellular networks of fibrin and collagen using a shear rheometer with free water in/outflow. Both uniaxial stress and the network shear modulus are measured. Prior work [van Oosten, et al., Sci. Rep., 2015, 6, 19270] has shown softening/stiffening of these networks under compression/extension, together with a nonlinear response to shear, but the origin of such behaviour remains poorly understood. Here, we study how uniaxial strain influences the nonlinear mechanics of fibrous networks. Using a computational network model with bendable and stretchable fibres, we show that the softening/stiffening behaviour can be understood for fixed lateral boundaries in 2D and 3D networks with comparable average connectivities to the experimental extracellular networks. Moreover, we show that the onset of stiffening depends strongly on the imposed uniaxial strain. Our study highlights the importance of both uniaxial strain and boundary conditions in determining the mechanical response of hydrogels.