The zonular filaments from the eyes of cows are rich in microfibrils containing fibrillin. Tensile tests, stress-relaxation tests and X-ray diffraction studies were used to study the relationship between the mechanical behaviour of zonular filaments and the molecular packing and structure of the fibrillin-rich microfibrils. Zonular filaments show a non-linear (J-shaped) stress-strain curve and appreciable stress-relaxation. It is proposed that the non-linear properties are due to local variations in waviness in the microfibrils or assemblies of microfibrils, which straighten out and become more regularly aligned with strain. Previous and current X-ray diffraction results consistently show a partial ordering of microfibrils in zonular filaments into staggered aggregates which become more ordered and laterally aligned on stretching. Although the removal and re-addition of Ca(2+) is known to change the molecular structure of fibrillin, no effect was observed on the tensile properties of the zonular filaments. It is hypothesised that strain-induced deformation in the supramolecular aggregate packing may not be Ca(2+)-sensitive but could dominate the mechanical behaviour of microfibrillar arrays in zonular filaments.

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