A molecular dynamic analysis of gelatin as an amorphous material: Prediction of mechanical properties of gelatin systems


Biomaterials are used in regenerative medicine for induced autoregeneration and tissue engineering. This is often challenging, however, due to difficulties in tailoring and controlling the respective material properties. Since functionalization is expected to offer better control, in this study gelatin chains were modified with physically interacting groups based on tyrosine with the aim of causing the formation of physical crosslinks. This method permits application-specific properties like swelling and better tailoring of mechanical properties. The design of the crosslink strategy was supported by molecular dynamic (MD) simulations of amorphous bulk models for gelatin and functionalized gelatins at different water contents (0.8 and 25 wt.-%). The results permitted predictions to be formulated about the expected crosslink density and its influence on equilibrium swelling behavior and on elastic material properties. The models of pure gelatin were used to validate the strategy by comparison between simulated and experimental data such as density, backbone conformation angle distribution, and X-ray scattering spectra. A key result of the simulations was the prediction that increasing the number of aromatic functions attached to the gelatin chain leads to an increase in the number of physical netpoints observed in the simulated bulk packing models. By comparison with the Flory-Rehner model, this suggested reduced equilibrium swelling of the functionalized materials in water, a prediction that was subsequently confirmed by our experimental work. The reduction and control of the equilibrium degree of swelling in water is a key criterion for the applicability of functionalized gelatins when used, for example, as matrices for induced autoregeneration of tissues.
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