The formation of protein concentration gradients mediated by density differences of poly(ethylene glycol) microspheres

Jacob L. Roam, Hao Xu, Peter K. Nguyen, Donald L. Elbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


A critical element in the formation of scaffolds for tissue engineering is the introduction of concentration gradients of bioactive molecules. We explored the use of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) microspheres fabricated via a thermally induced phase separation to facilitate the creation of gradients in scaffolds. PEG microspheres were produced with different densities (buoyancies) and centrifuged to develop microsphere gradients. We previously found that the time to gelation following phase separation controlled the size of microspheres in the de-swollen state, while crosslink density affected swelling following buffer exchange into PBS. The principle factors used here to control microsphere densities were the temperature at which the PEG solutions were reacted following phase separation in aqueous sodium sulfate solutions and the length of the incubation period above the 'cloud point'. Using different temperatures and incubation times, microspheres were formed that self-assembled into gradients upon centrifugation. The gradients were produced with sharp interfaces or gradual transitions, with up to 5 tiers of different microsphere types. For proof-of-concept, concentration gradients of covalently immobilized proteins were also assembled. PEG microspheres containing heparin were also fabricated. PEG-heparin microspheres were incubated with fluorescently labeled protamine and used to form gradient scaffolds. The ability to form gradients in microspheres may prove to be useful to achieve better control over the kinetics of protein release from scaffolds or to generate gradients of immobilized growth factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8642-8650
Number of pages9
Issue number33
StatePublished - Nov 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


  • Gradient
  • Heparin
  • Hydrogel
  • Microsphere
  • Protein


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