Synthesis and Characterization of a Matrix-Metalloproteinase Responsive Silk–Elastinlike Protein Polymer

Silk-elastinlike protein polymers (SELPs) are recombinant polymers consisting of tandem repeats of silk (GAGAGS) and elastin (GVGVP) units. By modification of the length and composition of these repeats, the properties of SELP hydrogels can be controlled for specific applications including nucleic acid and virus delivery and tissue engineering. Here, the structure of SELPs is further modified to include a sequence that is sensitive to matrix-metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMPs are a ubiquitous family of extracellular matrix-modifying enzymes that are commonly associated with numerous vital processes. Increased levels of MMPs are found at high levels locally in many types of solid tumors. By modifying the SELP backbone with MMP-sensitive peptide sequences, a hydrogel that is degradable by MMPs was produced. The MMP-sensitivity of the polymer was examined by incubation with MMP-2 and MMP-9, which yielded complete cleavage of all full-length polymers by 36 hours and 48 hours, respectively, with no observable effect on unmodified SELP. Hydrogel sensitivity was tested by exposure to MMP-2 or MMP-9 for 2 weeks, during which samples were taken to analyze protein loss from the hydrogel and release of 100 nm fluorescent beads. Following the incubation period, hydrogels were tested in mechanical compression to examine the loss of hydrogel stiffness due to degradation. It was found that MMP-2 and MMP-9 caused 63% and 44% increased protein loss and 65% and 95% increased release from MMP-sensitive hydrogels, while the compressive modulus decreased by 41% and 29%. These results suggest the potential of MMP-responsive SELPs for localized delivery of bioactive agents where MMPs are overexpressed.