Inducing an LCST in hydrophilic polysaccharides via engineered macromolecular hydrophobicity

Sci Rep. 2023 Sep 9;13(1):14896. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-41947-z.


Thermoresponsive polysaccharide-based materials with tunable transition temperatures regulating phase-separated microdomains offer substantial opportunities in tissue engineering and biomedical applications. To develop novel synthetic thermoresponsive polysaccharides, we employed versatile chemical routes to attach hydrophobic adducts to the backbone of hydrophilic dextran and gradually increased the hydrophobicity of the dextran chains to engineer phase separation. Conjugating methacrylate moieties to the dextran backbone yielded a continuous increase in macromolecular hydrophobicity that induced a reversible phase transition whose lower critical solution temperature can be modulated via variations in polysaccharide concentration, molecular weight, degree of methacrylation, ionic strength, surfactant, urea and Hofmeister salts. The phase separation is driven by increased hydrophobic interactions of methacrylate residues, where the addition of surfactant and urea disassociates hydrophobic interactions and eliminates phase transition. Morphological characterization of phase-separated dextran solutions via scanning electron and flow imaging microscopy revealed the formation of microdomains upon phase transition. These novel thermoresponsive dextrans exhibited promising cytocompatibility in cell culture where the phase transition exerted negligible effects on the attachment, spreading and proliferation of human dermal fibroblasts. Leveraging the conjugated methacrylate groups, we employed photo-initiated radical polymerization to generate phase-separated hydrogels with distinct microdomains. Our bottom-up approach to engineering macromolecular hydrophobicity of conventional hydrophilic, non-phase separating dextrans to induce robust phase transition and generate thermoresponsive phase-separated biomaterials will find applications in mechanobiology, tissue repair and regenerative medicine.

PMID:37689784 | PMC:PMC10492858 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-023-41947-z


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