Functionalising silk hydrogels with hetero- and homotypic nanoparticles

Kaewchuchuen, Jirada and Matthew, Saphia A. L. and Phuagkhaopong, Suttinee and Bimbo, Luis M. and Seib, F. Philipp (2024) Functionalising silk hydrogels with hetero- and homotypic nanoparticles. RSC Advances, 14 (5). pp. 3525-3535. ISSN 2046-2069 (

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Despite many reports detailing silk hydrogels, the development of composite silk hydrogels with homotypic and heterotypic silk nanoparticles and their impact on material mechanics and biology have remained largely unexplored. We hypothesise that the inclusion of nanoparticles into silk-based hydrogels enables the formation of homotropic and heterotropic material assemblies. The aim was to explore how well these systems allow tuning of mechanics and cell adhesion to ultimately control the cell–material interface. We utilised nonporous silica nanoparticles as a standard reference and compared them to nanoparticles derived from Bombyx mori silk and Antheraea mylitta (tasar) silk (approximately 100–150 nm in size). Initially, physically cross-linked B. mori silk hydrogels were prepared containing silica, B. mori silk nanoparticles, or tasar silk nanoparticles at concentrations of either 0.05% or 0.5% (w/v). The initial modulus (stiffness) of these nanoparticle-functionalised silk hydrogels was similar. Stress relaxation was substantially faster for nanoparticle-modified silk hydrogels than for unmodified control hydrogels. Increasing the concentrations of B. mori silk and silica nanoparticles slowed stress relaxation, while the opposite trend was observed for hydrogels modified with tasar nanoparticles. Cell attachment was similar for all hydrogels, but proliferation during the initial 24 h was significantly improved with the nanoparticle-modified hydrogels. Overall, this study demonstrates the manufacture and utilisation of homotropic and heterotropic silk hydrogels.