Marine mussels anchor to a variety of surfaces by secreting liquid proteins that harden and form water-resistant bonds to a variety of surfaces. Studies have revealed that these mussel adhesive proteins contain an unusual amino acid, 3,4-dihydroxy-L-phenylalanine (DOPA), which is believed to be responsible for the cohesive and adhesive properties of these proteins. To separate the cohesive and adhesive roles of DOPA, we incorporated DOPA into the midblock of poly(methyl methacrylate)-poly(methacrylic acid)-poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA-PMAA-PMMA) triblock copolymers. Self-assembled hydrogels were obtained by exposing triblock copolymer solutions in dimethyl sulfoxide to water vapor. As water diffused into the solution, the hydrophobic end blocks formed aggregates that were bridged by the water-soluble midblocks. Strong hydrogels were formed with polymer weight fractions between 0.01 and 0.4 and with shear moduli between 1 and 5 kPa. The adhesive properties of the hydrogels on TiO2 surfaces were investigated by indentation with a flat-ended cylindrical punch. At pH values of 6 and 7.4, the fully protonated DOPA groups were highly adhesive to the TiO2 surfaces, giving values of ≈2 J/m2 for the interfacial fracture energy, which we believe corresponds to the cohesive fracture energy of the hydrogel. At these pH values, the DOPA groups are hydrophobic and have a tendency to aggregate, so contact times of 10 or 20 min are required for these high values of the interfacial strength to be observed. At a pH of 10, the DOPA groups were hydrophilic and highly swellable, but less adhesive gels were formed. Oxidation of DOPA groups, a process that is greatly accelerated at a pH of 10, decreased the adhesive performance of the hydrogels even further.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Polymers and Plastics
- Materials Chemistry