Journal of Biological Physics

, Volume 39, Issue 2, pp 183–199 | Cite as

Modeling and simulation of the mechanical response from nanoindentation test of DNA-filled viral capsids

  • Aylin Ahadi
  • Dan Johansson
  • Alex Evilevitch
Original Paper


Viruses can be described as biological objects composed mainly of two parts: a stiff protein shell called a capsid, and a core inside the capsid containing the nucleic acid and liquid. In many double-stranded DNA bacterial viruses (aka phage), the volume ratio between the liquid and the encapsidated DNA is approximately 1:1. Due to the dominant DNA hydration force, water strongly mediates the interaction between the packaged DNA strands. Therefore, water that hydrates the DNA plays an important role in nanoindentation experiments of DNA-filled viral capsids. Nanoindentation measurements allow us to gain further insight into the nature of the hydration and electrostatic interactions between the DNA strands. With this motivation, a continuum-based numerical model for simulating the nanoindentation response of DNA-filled viral capsids is proposed here. The viral capsid is modeled as large- strain isotropic hyper-elastic material, whereas porous elasticity is adopted to capture the mechanical response of the filled viral capsid. The voids inside the viral capsid are assumed to be filled with liquid, which is modeled as a homogenous incompressible fluid. The motion of a fluid flowing through the porous medium upon capsid indentation is modeled using Darcy’s law, describing the flow of fluid through a porous medium. The nanoindentation response is simulated using three-dimensional finite element analysis and the simulations are performed using the finite element code Abaqus. Force-indentation curves for empty, partially and completely DNA-filled capsids are directly compared to the experimental data for bacteriophage λ. Material parameters such as Young’s modulus, shear modulus, and bulk modulus are determined by comparing computed force-indentation curves to the data from the atomic force microscopy (AFM) experiments. Predictions are made for pressure distribution inside the capsid, as well as the fluid volume ratio variation during the indentation test.


Capsid nanoindentation AFM Darcy’s law Finite element simulations Spring constant 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mechanical EngineeringLund UniversityLundSweden
  2. 2.Department of PhysicsCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiochemistryLund UniversityLundSweden

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