Oxidatively responsive chain extension to entangle engineered protein hydrogels

Shengchang Tang, Matthew J. Glassman, Shuaili Li, Simona Socrate, Bradley D. Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Engineering artificial protein hydrogels for medical applications requires precise control over their mechanical properties, including stiffness, toughness, extensibility, and stability in the physiological environment. Here we demonstrate topological entanglement as an effective strategy to robustly increase the mechanical tunability of a transient hydrogel network based on coiled-coil interactions. Chain extension and entanglement are achieved by coupling the cysteine residues near the N- and C-termini, and the resulting chain distribution is found to agree with the Jacobson-Stockmayer theory. By exploiting the reversible nature of the disulfide bonds, the entanglement effect can be switched on and off by redox stimuli. With the presence of entanglements, hydrogels exhibit a 7.2-fold enhanced creep resistance and a suppressed erosion rate by a factor of 5.8, making the gels more mechanically stable in a physiologically relevant open system. While hardly affecting material stiffness (only resulting in a 1.5-fold increase in the plateau modulus), the entanglements remarkably lead to hydrogels with a toughness of 65 000 J m-3 and extensibility to approximately 3000% engineering strain, which enables the preparation of tough yet soft tissue simulants. This improvement in mechanical properties resembles that from double-network hydrogels but is achieved with the use of a single associating network and topological entanglement. Therefore, redox-triggered chain entanglement offers an effective approach for constructing mechanically enhanced and responsive injectable hydrogels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)791-799
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 28 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry

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