American Chemical Society
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Mechanisms by Which Organic Solvent Exchange Transforms Responsive Pure Protein Hydrogels into Responsive Organogels

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journal contribution
posted on 2020-01-07, 21:10 authored by Natasha Lynn Smith, Andrew Eagle Coukouma, Ryan S. Jakubek, Sanford A. Asher
Responsive pure protein organogel sensors and catalysts are fabricated by replacing the aqueous mobile phase of protein hydrogels with pure ethylene glycol (EG). Exchanging water for EG causes irreversible volume phase transitions (VPT) in bovine serum albumin (BSA) polymers; however, BSA hydrogel and organogel sensors show similar volume responses to protein–ligand binding. This work elucidates the mechanisms involved in this enabling irreversible VPT by examining the protein secondary structure, hydration, and protein polymer morphology. Organogel proteins retain their native activity because their secondary structure and hydration shell are relatively unperturbed by the EG exchange. Conversely, the decreasing solvent quality initiates polymer phase separation to minimize the BSA polymer surface area exposed to EG, thus decreasing distances between BSA polymer strands. These protein polymer morphology changes promote interprotein interactions between BSA polymer strands, which increase the effective polymer cross-link density and prevent organogel swelling as the mobile phase is exchanged back to water.