The effect of collagen ageing on its structure and cellular behaviour

Collagen is the most important component in extracellular matrix (ECM) and plays a pivotal role in individual tissue function in mammals. During ageing, collagen structure changes, which can detrimentally affect its biophysical and biomechanical properties due to an accumulation of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). AGEs have been linked to non-enzymatic cross-linking of proteins resulting in the alteration of mechanical properties of the tissue. In this study we investigate the influence of different aged collagens on the mechanical and contractile properties of reconstituted hydrogel constructs seeded with corneal stromal fibroblasts. A non-destructive indentation technique and optical coherence tomography (OCT) are used to determine the elastic modulus and dimensional changes respectively. It is revealed that the youngest collagen constructs have a higher elastic modulus and increased contraction compared to the older collagen. These results provide new insights into the relationship between collagen molecular structures and their biomechanical properties.