Rate-dependent behavior of the amorphous phase of spider dragline silk

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The time-dependent stress-strain behavior of spider dragline silk was already observed decades ago, and has been attributed to the disordered sequences in silk proteins, which compose the soft amorphous matrix. However, the actual molecular origin and magnitude of internal friction within the amorphous matrix has remained inaccessible, because experimentally decomposing the mechanical response of the amorphous matrix from the embedded crystalline units is challenging. Here, we used atomistic molecular dynamics simulations to obtain friction forces for the relative sliding of peptide chains of Araneus diadematus spider silk within bundles of these chains as a representative unit of the amorphous matrix in silk fibers. We computed the friction coefficient and coefficient of viscosity of the amorphous phase to be in the order of 10 -6 Ns/m and 104 Ns/m2, respectively, by extrapolating our simulation data to the viscous limit. Finally, we used a finite element method for the amorphous phase, solely based on parameters derived from molecular dynamics simulations including the newly determined coefficient of viscosity. With this model the time scales of stress relaxation, creep, and hysteresis were assessed, and found to be in line with the macroscopic time-dependent response of silk fibers. Our results suggest the amorphous phase to be the primary source of viscosity in silk and open up the avenue for finite element method studies of silk fiber mechanics including viscous effects. © 2014 Biophysical Society.




Patil, S. P., Markert, B., & Gräter, F. (2014). Rate-dependent behavior of the amorphous phase of spider dragline silk. Biophysical Journal, 106(11), 2511–2518. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpj.2014.04.033

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