Both protein adsorption and aggregation contribute to shear yielding and viscosity increase in protein solutions†
A combination of sensitive rotational rheometry and surface rheometry with a double-wall ring were used to identify the origins of the viscosity increase at low shear rates in protein solutions. The rheology of two high molecular weight proteins is discussed: Bovine Serum Albumin (BSA) in a Phosphate Buffered Saline solution and an IgG1 monoclonal antibody (mAb) in a formulation buffer containing small quantities of a non-ionic surfactant. For surfactant-free BSA solutions, the interfacial viscosity dominates the low shear viscosity measured in rotational rheometers, while the surfactant-laden mAb solution has an interfacial viscosity that is small compared to that from aggregation in the bulk. A viscoelastic film forms at the air/water interface in the absence of surfactant, contributing to an apparent yield stress (thus a low shear viscosity increase) in conventional bulk rheology measurements. Addition of surfactant eliminates the interfacial yield stress. Evidence of a bulk yield stress arising from protein aggregation is presented, and correlated with results from standard characterization techniques used in the bio-pharmaceutical industry. The protein film at the air/water interface and bulk aggregates both lead to an apparent viscosity increase and their contributions are quantified using a dimensionless ratio of the interfacial and total yield stress. While steady shear viscosities at shear rates below ∼1 s−1 contain rich information about the stability of protein solutions, embodied in the measured yield stress, such low shear rate data are regrettably often not measured and reported in the literature.