Marek Cieplak1 and Mark O. Robbins2
1 Institute of Physics, Polish Academy of Sciences, 02-668 Warsaw, Poland
2 Department of Physics and Astronomy, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA
A molecular-level model is used to study the mechanical response of empty cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV) and cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) capsids. The model is based on the native structure of the proteins that consitute the capsids and is described in terms of the Ca atoms. Nanoindentation by a large tip is modeled as compression between parallel plates. Plots of the compressive force versus plate separation for CCMV are qualitatively consistent with continuum models and experiments, showing an elastic region followed by an irreversible drop in force. The mechanical response of CPMV has not been studied, but the molecular model predicts an order of magnitude higher stiffness and a much shorter elastic region than for CCMV. These large changes result from small structural changes that increase the number of bonds by only 30% and would be difficult to capture in continuum models. Direct comparison of local deformations in continuum and molecular models of CCMV shows that the molecular model undergoes a gradual symmetry breaking rotation and accommodates more strain near the walls than the continuum model. The irreversible drop in force at small separations is associated with rupturing nearly all of the bonds between capsid proteins in the molecular model while a buckling transition is observed in continuum models.
J. Chem. Phys. 132, 015101 (2010)
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