Self-assembly of stimuli-responsive coiled-coil fibrous hydrogels†
Owing to their tunable properties, hydrogels comprised of stimuli-sensitive polymers are one of the most appealing scaffolds with applications in tissue engineering, drug delivery and other biomedical fields. We previously reported a thermoresponsive hydrogel formed using a coiled-coil protein, Q. Here, we expand our studies to identify the gelation of Q protein at distinct pH conditions, creating a protein hydrogel system that is sensitive to temperature and pH. Through secondary structure analysis, transmission electron microscopy, and rheology, we observed that Q self-assembles and forms fiber-based hydrogels exhibiting upper critical solution temperature behavior with increased elastic properties at pH 7.4 and pH 10. At pH 6, however, Q forms polydisperse nanoparticles, which do not further self-assemble and undergo gelation. The high net positive charge of Q at pH 6 creates significant electrostatic repulsion, preventing its gelation. This study will potentially guide the development of novel scaffolds and functional biomaterials that are sensitive towards biologically relevant stimuli.