Self-assembly of rat tail collagen type I was investigated by means of turbidity measurements and molecular dynamics simulations. Turbidity curves collected at different pH values show that the rate of aggregation was not linear in dependence from pH, with the fastest kinetics at pH 5.0 and the lowest at neutral pH. MD simulations were carried out on two regions with different hydropathicity, monitoring the aggregation of up to four staggered tropocollagen fragments at different ionic strength. At physiological conditions, association of lowly charged regions occurs more easily than for highly charged ones, the latter seeming to aggregate in a sequential way. The first contacts indicate for both regions that the driving force is hydrophobic, the electrostatic contribution becoming relevant at short distance. The direct inter-tropocollagen H-bonds confirm that fibrillogenesis is driven by loss of surface water from the monomers and involves in large percentage hydroxyproline residues. Low ionic strength dynamics leads to the formation of incorrect assemblies, driven by not shielded pairwise charge interactions.
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