The basement membrane is a specialized part of the extra-cellular matrix. It is usually characterized as a scaffold for epithelial cells but in some tissues it serves other, mechanical, roles [1]. The mechanical properties of the basement membrane are mainly determined by one of its main constituents — type IV collagen. Unlike the well-known fibrous type I collagen, collagen IV assembles into planar networks (Fig. 1) [2]. The α 1(IV) and α 2(IV) collagen IV chains assemble into the so-called major chain network, present in all basement membranes. The α 3(IV), α 4(IV), α 5(IV) collagen IV chains form the minor chain network which is found only in the adult basement membranes of the kidney glomerular capillaries (GBM), ocular lens (LBM), cochlea, and the testes [3]. The minor chains have a higher number of cysteine residues, allowing them to form a higher number of lateral interactions. In the minor chain network, the greater potential to interact laterally manifests in the formation of super-coils, which are rarely observed in the major chain network [4]. Increasing the number of cross-links in a polymeric material is known to increase material stiffness; therefore, it is believed that the minor chain network confers basement membranes with additional strength and stability [5]. In the hereditary disease Alport syndrome, a mutation causes the absence of the minor chain network. The GBM and LBM of Alport patients appear weakened and unable to meet their mechanical demands, further supporting this theory [6]. The objective of this study was to evaluate the importance of cross-linking in the minor chains for the mechanical properties of type IV collagen networks, specifically in the GBM and LBM where the absence of the minor chains has an observed mechanical effect.

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