Bending energy penalty enhances the adhesive strength of functional amyloid curli to surfaces

Yao Zhang, Ao Wang, Elizabeth P. Debenedictis, Sinan Keten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The functional amyloid curli fiber, a major proteinaceous component of biofilm extracellular matrices, plays an important role in biofilm formation and enterobacteriaceae adhesion. Curli nanofibers exhibit exceptional underwater adhesion to various surfaces, have high rigidity and strong tensile mechanical properties, and thus hold great promise in biomaterials. The mechanisms of how curli fibers strongly attach to surfaces and detach under force remain elusive. To investigate curli fiber adhesion to surfaces, we developed a coarse-grained curli fiber model, in which the protein subunit CsgA (curli specific gene A) self-assembles into the fiber. The coarse-grained model yields physiologically relevant and tunable bending rigidity and persistence length. The force-induced desorption of a single curli fiber is examined using coarse-grained modeling and theoretical analysis. We find that the bending energy penalty arising from high persistence length enhances the resistance of the curli fiber against desorption and thus strengthens the adhesion of the curli fiber to surfaces. The CsgA-surface adhesion energy and the curli fiber bending rigidity both play crucial roles in the resistance of curli fiber against desorption from surfaces. To enable the desorption process, the applied peeling force must overcome both the interfacial adhesion energy and the energy barrier for bending the curli fiber at the peeling front. We show that the energy barrier to desorption increases with the interfacial adhesion energy, however, the bending induced failure of a single curli fiber limits the work of adhesion if the proportion of the CsgA-surface adhesion energy to the CsgA-CsgA cohesive energy becomes large. These results illustrate that the optimal adhesion performance of nanofibers is dictated by the interplay between bending, surface energy and cohesive energy. Our model provides timely insight into enterobacteriaceae adhesion mechanisms as well as future designs of engineered curli fiber based adhesives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number464002
Issue number46
StatePublished - Oct 23 2017


  • adhesion to surfaces
  • amyloid fibril
  • bending energy penalty
  • coarse-grained model
  • curli fiber
  • force-induced desorption

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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