Radial packing, order, and disorder in collagen fibrils. Academic Article uri icon


  • Collagen fibrils resemble smectic, liquid crystals in being highly ordered axially but relatively disordered laterally. In some connective tissues, x-ray diffraction reveals three-dimensional crystallinity in the molecular packing within fibrils, although the continued presence of diffuse scatter indicates significant underlying disorder. In addition, several observations from electron microscopy suggest that the molecular packing is organized concentrically about the fibril core. In the present work, theoretical equatorial x-ray diffraction patterns for a number of models for collagen molecular packing are calculated and compared with the experimental data from tendon fibrils. None of the models suggested previously can account for both the crystalline Bragg peaks and the underlying diffuse scatter. In addition, models in which any of the nearest-neighbor, intermolecular vectors are perpendicular to the radial direction are inconsistent with the observed radial orientation of the principal approximately 4 nm Bragg spacing. Both multiple-start spiral and concentric ring models are devised in which one of the nearest-neighbor vectors is along the radial direction. These models are consistent with the radial orientation of the approximately 4 nm spacing, and energy minimization results in radially oriented crystalline domains separated by disordered grain boundaries. Theoretical x-ray diffraction patterns show a combination of sharp Bragg peaks and underlying diffuse scatter. Close agreement with the observed equatorial diffraction pattern is obtained. The concentric ring model is consistent with the observation that the diameters of collagen fibrils are restricted to discrete values.

published proceedings

  • Biophys J

author list (cited authors)

  • Hulmes, D. J., Wess, T. J., Prockop, D. J., & Fratzl, P.

citation count

  • 255

complete list of authors

  • Hulmes, DJ||Wess, TJ||Prockop, DJ||Fratzl, P

publication date

  • May 1995