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Force-Induced Structural Changes in Spider Silk Fibers Introduced by ATR-FTIR Spectroscopy

Mohammad Javad Jafari, Fredrik G. Bäcklund, Tina Arndt, Benjamin Schmuck, Gabriele Greco, Anna Rising, Andreas Barth, and Thomas Ederth*


Graphical Abstract


Silk fibers have unique mechanical properties, and many studies of silk aim at understanding how these properties are related to secondary structure content, which often is determined by infrared spectroscopy. We report significant method-induced irreversible structural changes to both natural and synthetic spider silk fibers, derived from the widely used attenuated total reflection Fourier-transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) technique. By varying the force used to bring fibers into contact with the internal reflection elements of ATR-FTIR accessories, we observed correlated and largely irreversible changes in the secondary structure, with shape relaxation under pressure occurring within minutes. Fitting of spectral components shows that these changes agree with transformations from the α-helix to the β-sheet secondary structure with possible contributions from other secondary structure elements. We further confirm the findings with IR microspectroscopy, where similar differences were seen between the pressed and unaffected regions of spider silk fibers. Our findings show that ATR-FTIR spectroscopy requires care in its use and in the interpretation of the results.

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