Ultralow Protein Adsorbing Coatings from Clickable PEG Nanogel Solutions: Benefits of Attachment under Salt-Induced Phase Separation Conditions and Comparison with PEG/Albumin Nanogel Coatings

Clickable nanogel solutions were synthesized by using the copper catalyzed azide/alkyne cycloaddition (CuAAC) to partially polymerize solutions of azide and alkyne functionalized poly­(ethylene glycol) (PEG) monomers. Coatings were fabricated using a second click reaction: a UV thiol-yne attachment of the nanogel solutions to mercaptosilanated glass. Because the CuAAC reaction was effectively halted by the addition of a copper-chelator, we were able to prevent bulk gelation and limit the coating thickness to a single monolayer of nanogels in the absence of the solution reaction. This enabled the inclusion of kosmotropic salts, which caused the PEG to phase-separate and nearly double the nanogel packing density, as confirmed by quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation (QCM-D). Protein adsorption was analyzed by single molecule counting with total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy and cell adhesion assays. Coatings formed from the phase-separated clickable nanogel solutions attached with salt adsorbed significantly less fibrinogen than other 100% PEG coatings tested, as well as poly­(l-lysine)-g-PEG (PLL-g-PEG) coatings. However, PEG/albumin nanogel coatings still outperformed the best 100% PEG clickable nanogel coatings. Additional surface cross-linking of the clickable nanogel coating in the presence of copper further reduced levels of fibrinogen adsorption closer to those of PEG/albumin nanogel coatings. However, this step negatively impacted long-term resistance to cell adhesion and dramatically altered the morphology of the coating by atomic force microscopy (AFM). The main benefit of the click strategy is that the partially polymerized solutions are stable almost indefinitely, allowing attachment in the phase-separated state without danger of bulk gelation, and thus producing the best performing 100% PEG coating that we have studied to date.