Tensile moduli and J-integral fracture toughness values were determined for horse hoof-wall keratin at four hydration levels. The stiffness of hoof-wall was influenced by water content to a greater degree than is the stiffness of other mammalian hard keratins. Young's modulus increased from 410 MPa at 100% relative hydration (RH) to 14.6 GPa at 0% RH. Fracture toughness was maximal (22.8 kJ m-2) at an intermediate hydration (75% RH), which represents a two-fold increase over both fully hydrated and dehydrated material. Maximum fracture toughness occurred at a hydration level which is within the range that has been found in vivo in the hoof wall. These results lead to the hypothesis that the density of secondary bonding sites within the hoof-wall keratin matrix proteins provides the hoof organ with the means to modulate tissue properties, even though this epidermal tissue functions after the cells have died.

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