Collagen molecules in solution unfold close to the maximum body temperature of the species of animal from which the molecules are extracted. It is therefore vital that collagen is stabilized during fiber formation. In this paper, our concept that the collagen molecule is thermally stabilized by loss of configurational entropy of the molecule in the fiber lattice, is refined by examining the process theoretically. Combining an equation for the entropy of a polymer-in-a-box with our previously published rate theory analysis of collagen denaturation, we have derived a hyperbolic relationship between the denaturation temperature, T(m), and the volume fraction, ε, of water in the fiber. DSC data were consistent with the model for water volume fractions greater than 0.2. At a water volume fraction of about 0.2, there was an abrupt change in the slope of the linear relationship between 1/T(m) and ε. This may have been caused by a collapse of the gap-overlap fiber structure at low hydrations. At more than 6 moles water per tripeptide, the enthalpy of denaturation on a dry tendon basis was independent of hydration at 58.55 ± 0.59 J g-1. Between about 6 and 1 moles water per tripeptide, dehydration caused a substantial loss of enthalpy of denaturation, caused by a loss of water bridges from the hydration network surrounding the triple helix. At very low hydrations (less than 1 mole of water per tripeptide), where there was not enough water to form bridges and only sufficient to hydrogen bond to primary binding sites on the peptide chains, the enthalpy was approximately constant at 11.6 ± 0.69 J g-1. This was assigned mainly to the breaking of the direct hydrogen bonds between the alpha chains.
Miles, C. A., & Ghelashvili, M. (1999). Polymer-in-a-box mechanism for the thermal stabilization of collagen molecules in fibers. Biophysical Journal, 76(6), 3243–3252. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0006-3495(99)77476-X