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Title: Responsive hydrogels using self-assembling polymer-peptide conjugates
Author: Maslovskis, Antons
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2010
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Stimuli-responsive polymers and self-assembling peptides represent two classes of materials with interesting properties and great potential to be used as biomaterials. The conjugation of polymer with peptide offers a way to combine the controlled chemical, mechanical, and thermal properties of polymer with the functionality of designed bioactive group. Pure hybrid materials with the characteristics of individual components or systems containing hybrid materials became attractive for applications in drug delivery and tissue engineering. This work focused on systems where the thermo-responsive properties of a polymer were combined with the gelling properties of two different ionic-complementary peptides via conjugation. The prototypical thermo-responsive polymer poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm) was chosen due to its lower critical solution temperature (LCST) ~32°C being close to body temperature. Ionic-complementary oligo-peptides, containing the alternating hydrophobic/hydrophilic and charged/uncharged amino acids, phenylalanine (F), glutamic acid (E) and lysine (K), were selected as they are known to form β-sheet rich fibrillar networks at low concentrations. Two peptide sequences with different charge distribution were chosen: FEFEFKFK and FEFKFEFK which form self-supporting gels at ~17 and 10 mg ml-1 respectively. Polymer-peptide conjugates were used to confer self-assembling and thermo-responsive behaviour to the system.Thermo-responsive PNIPAAm-rich hydrogels were obtained by targeting different degrees of functionalisation of PNIPAAm with the self-assembling peptides. Two series of such systems were prepared by using either a thiol-modified FEFEFKFK or a thiol-modified FEFKFEFK peptide as the chain-transfer agent in the free radical polymerisation of NIPAAm. The resulting polymer/conjugate mixtures were studied by proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H NMR). The polymer/conjugate ratios were calculated and showed that the conjugate fraction in the mixtures increased with increasing concentration of peptide used for the polymerisation. Static light scattering (SLS) and viscometry showed the aggregation of the polymer/conjugate mixtures presumably due to the presence of peptide. The values from gel permeation chromatography (GPC), which were mostly attributed to the unconjugated polymers, were higher than those obtained from 1H NMR and centrifugation for the conjugates. The polymer/conjugate mixtures formed self-supporting gels where the critical gelation concentration decreased with increasing conjugate content. Oscillatory rheology experiments confirmed gels had formed and revealed that their elastic modulus, G' varied from ~ 10 to 400 Pa depending on the sample. TEM and AFM studies proved the formation of β-sheet fibres of ~ 4.5 ± 1.5 nm in diameter. The PNIPAAm-rich hydrogels were also characterised by micro DSC to reveal their thermo-responsiveness and phase separation and showed the LCST at ~ 30°C. The results of the study showed that varying the peptide sequence did not have an effect on thermal, mechanical or morphological properties of the hydrogels. By exploiting the self-assembly of the ionic-complementary peptides, it was possible to create PNIPAAm-rich, thermo-responsive hydrogels with controllable properties.Further in the study pure PNIPAAm-FEFEFKFK conjugate was incorporated into the FEFEFKFK peptide matrix to create peptide-rich thermo-responsive composite gels. Two series of the composite gels were prepared by varying separately the peptide matrix and polymer-peptide conjugate concentration. Micro DSC measurements revealed an endothermic peak at ~ 30ºC characteristic of the LCST of PNIPAAm. Oscillatory rheology studies showed that the composite gels became stronger with increasing conjugate concentration (G' ~ 20 - 200 Pa). Network morphology was studied by SANS. Using contrast variation and contrast matching techniques it was possible to distinguish between the peptide fibres and the PNIPAAm chains. Below and above the LCST the scattering curves showed a q-1 behaviour which is typical of rod-like objects. TEM and AFM also proved the formation of fibres of ~4.0 ± 0.8 nm and ~4.5 ± 1 nm respectively. AFM studies showed that the fibres of the composite gels were decorated with polymer chains. The thermo-responsiveness and the gelation properties of these conjugate-based scaffolds have potential for use as drug delivery vehicles or tissue engineering scaffolds.
Supervisor: Saiani, Aline Sponsor: Marie Curie Early Stage Research Training
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) ; stimuli-responsive polymer ; LCST ; peptide ; self-assembly ; hydrogel ; polymer-peptide conjugate