Fluctuating Nonlinear Spring Model of Mechanical Deformation of Biological Particles

O. Kononova, J. Snijder, Y. Kholodov, K.A. Marx, G.J.L. Wuite, W.H. Roos, V. Barsegov

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The mechanical properties of virus capsids correlate with local conformational dynamics in the capsid structure. They also reflect the required stability needed to withstand high internal pressures generated upon genome loading and contribute to the success of important events in viral infectivity, such as capsid maturation, genome uncoating and receptor binding. The mechanical properties of biological nanoparticles are often determined from monitoring their dynamic deformations in Atomic Force Microscopy nanoindentation experiments; but a comprehensive theory describing the full range of observed deformation behaviors has not previously been described. We present a new theory for modeling dynamic deformations of biological nanoparticles, which considers the non-linear Hertzian deformation, resulting from an indenter-particle physical contact, and the bending of curved elements (beams) modeling the particle structure. The beams’ deformation beyond the critical point triggers a dynamic transition of the particle to the collapsed state. This extreme event is accompanied by a catastrophic force drop as observed in the experimental or simulated force (F)-deformation (X) spectra. The theory interprets fine features of the spectra, including the nonlinear components of the FX-curves, in terms of the Young’s moduli for Hertzian and bending deformations, and the structural damage dependent beams’ survival probability, in terms of the maximum strength and the cooperativity parameter. The theory is exemplified by successfully describing the deformation dynamics of natural nanoparticles through comparing theoretical curves with experimental force-deformation spectra for several virus particles. This approach provides a comprehensive description of the dynamic structural transitions in biological and artificial nanoparticles, which is essential for their optimal use in nanotechnology and nanomedicine applications.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1004729
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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