Clinical application of laser vascular anastomosis in inhibited by a lack of understanding of its mechanism. Whether tissue fusion results from covalent or non-covalent bonding of collagen and other structural proteins is unknown. We compared electrophoretic mobility of collagen in laser treated and untreated specimens of rat tail tendon (>90% type I collagen) and rabbit aorta. Welding was performed, using tissue shrinkage as the clinical endpoint, using the 808 nm diode laser (power density 14 watts/cm2) and topical indocyanine green dye (max absorption 805 nm). Collagen was extracted with 8 M urea (denaturing), 0.5 M acetic acid (non-denaturing) and acetic acid/pepsin (cleaves non- helical protein). Mobility patterns on gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) after urea or acetic acid extraction were identical in the lasered and control tendon and vessel (confirmed by optical densitometry), revealing no evidence of formation of novel covalent bonds. Alpha and beta band intensity was diminished in pepsin incubated lasered specimens compared with controls (optical density ratio 0.00 +/- 9 tendon, 0.65 +/- 0.12 aorta), indicating the presence of denatured collagen. With the laser parameters used, collagen is denatured without formation of covalent bonds, suggesting that non-covalent interaction between denatured collagen molecules may be responsible for the weld. Based on this mechanism, welding parameters can be chosen which produce collagen denaturation without cell death.