Mechanical characterization of electrospun polyesteretherurethane (PEEU) meshes by atomic force microscopy


The mechanical properties of electrospun fiber meshes typically are measured by tensile testing at the macro-scale without precisely addressing the spatial scale of living cells and their submicron architecture. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) enables the examination of the nano- and micro-mechanical properties of the fibers with potential to correlate the structural mechanical properties across length scales with composition and functional behavior. In this study, a polyesteretherurethane (PEEU) polymer containing poly(p-dioxanone) (PPDO) and poly(ɛ-caprolactone) (PCL) segments was electrospun into fiber meshes or suspended single fibers. We employed AFM three point bending testing and AFM force mapping to measure the elastic modulus and stiffness of individual micro/nanofibers and the fiber mesh. The local stiffness of the fiber mesh including the randomized, intersecting structure was also examined for each individual fiber. Force mapping results with a set point of 50 nN demonstrated the dependence of the elasticity of a single fiber on the fiber mesh architecture. The non-homogeneous stiffness along the same fiber was attributed to the intersecting structure of the supporting mesh morphology. The same fiber measured at a point with and without axial fiber support showed a remarkable difference in stiffness, ranging from 0.2 to 10 nN/nm respectively. For the region, where supporting fibers densely intersected, the stiffness was found to be considerably higher. In the region where the degrees of freedom of the fibers was not restricted, allowing greater displacement, the stiffness were observed to be lower. This study elucidates the relationship between architecture and the mechanical properties of a micro/nanofiber mesh. By providing a greater understanding of the role of spatial arrangement and organization on the surface mechanical properties of such materials, we hope to provide insight into the design of microenvironments capable of regulating cell functionality.
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