Glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) are abundant, long-chain, highly charged carbohydrates found in the extracellular matrix, but their functional impact on the mechanical behavior of collagen is not understood.
We developed a theory to show that the tissue swelling caused by highly-charged GAGs significantly altered the alignment and organization of collagen networks. Notably, cell-mediated long-range force transmission through collagen networks was decreased in the presence of GAGs. We found excellent agreement between our theory and experiments designed to test the predictions from the theory.
This work has important implications for designing biomaterials with the potential to tune cell-cell communication over distances and is relevant to understanding diseases such as fibrosis and cancer.