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Blood Clots Show Their Flex
By Emily Carlson
Posted March 13, 2008

Like a piece of bubble gum, this protein molecule can extend up to three times its normal length. The protein is fibrinogen, which helps form the flexible fibers that make up blood clots. Clots have be to somewhat elastic to withstand blood pressure. If they aren’t, they could potentially rupture or dislodge, causing stroke or heart attack.

This molecular movie shows us exactly how clots gain their lifesaving stretchiness.

Combining experimental and computational methods, a team of scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign used a molecular visualization technique to animate the more than one million atoms that make up fibrinogen. The process took six months.

The effort resulted in a simulation documenting three distinct events in the protein’s elongation. The researchers found that certain environmental changes could alter the process, creating stiffer molecules that might lead to clots that are more likely to rupture.

Research Update

“By using molecular simulation as a ‘computational microscope’ to understand fundamental questions in biology, we can begin to piece together all the small processes that comprise the function of a living organism... [which] can ultimately lead to therapies to improve human health,” says Eric Lee, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate who created the animation.

Learn about related research

This page last reviewed on July 14, 2011