Extra cellular matrix, which provides physical support to epithelial and endothelial cells and to fibroblasts, also affects a number of important cell biological phenomena, such as cell motility and angiogenesis. Although type I collagen has long been recognized as the primary structural component of the extra cellular matrix, little is known about the physical properties of collagen gels. In this study, we used a servo-controlled linear actuator to impose quick stretches on dilute collagen gels. An axial strain imposed on the gel within few milliseconds resulted in a rapid development of gel tension in the direction of the strain. The gel tension then decayed toward a steady-state value within several seconds. The instantaneous gel stiffness increased and the relaxed gel stiffness decreased with the extent of gel stretching. These rheological parameters were also dependent on the density of the collagen network. Taken together the results indicated that collagen gels possess nonlinear viscoelastic properties.

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