Enzymatic action as switch of bulk to surface degradation of clicked gelatin-based networks


Polymer degradation occurs under physiological conditions in vitro and in vivo, especially when bonds susceptible to hydrolysis are present in the polymer. Understanding of the degradation mechanism, changes of material properties over time, and overall rate of degradation is a necessary prerequisite for the knowledge-based design of polymers with applications in biomedicine. Here, hydrolytic degradation studies of gelatin-based networks synthesized by copper-catalyzed azide-alkyne cycloaddition reaction are reported, which were performed with or without addition of an enzyme. In all cases, networks with a stilbene as crosslinker proofed to be more resistant to degradation than when an octyl diazide was used. Without addition of an enzyme, the rate of degradation was ruled by the crosslinking density of the network and proceeded via a bulk degradation mechanism. Addition of Clostridium histolyticum collagenase resulted in a much enhanced rate of degradation, which furthermore occurred via surface erosion. The mesh size of the hydrogels (>7 nm) was in all cases larger than the hydrodynamic radius of the enzyme (4.5 nm) so that even in very hydrophilic networks with large mesh size enzymes may be used to induce a fast surface degradation mechanism. This observation is of general interest when designing hydrogels to be applied in the presence of enzymes, as the degradation mechanism and material performance are closely interlinked.
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