Inducing Microscale Structural Order in Phage Nanofilament Hydrogels with Globular Proteins
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Biological hydrogels play important physiological roles in the body. These hydrogels often contain ordered subdomains that provide mechanical toughness and other tissue-specific functionality. Filamentous bacteriophages are nanofilaments with a high aspect ratio that can self-assemble into liquid crystalline domains that could be designed to mimic ordered biological hydrogels and can thus find applications in biomedical engineering. We have previously reported hydrogels of pure cross-linked liquid crystalline filamentous phage formed at very high concentrations exhibiting a tightly packed microstructure and high stiffness. In this work, we report a method for inducing self-assembly of filamentous phage into liquid crystalline hydrogels at concentrations that are several orders of magnitude below that of lyotropic liquid crystal formation, thus creating structural order but a less densely packed microstructure. Hybrid hydrogels of M13 phage and bovine serum albumin (0.25 w/v%) were formed and shown to adsorb up to 16× their weight in water. Neither component gelled on its own at the low concentrations used, suggesting synergistic action between the two components in the formation of the hydrogel. The hybrid hydrogels exhibited repetitive self-healing under physiological conditions and at room temperature, autofluorescence in three channels, and antibacterial activity toward Escherichia coli host cells. Furthermore, the hybrid hydrogels exhibited a more than 2× higher ability to pack water compared to BSA-only hydrogels and 2× lower compression modulus compared to tightly packed M13-only hydrogels, suggesting that our method could be used to create hydrogels with tunable mechanical properties and pore structure through the addition of globular proteins, while maintaining bioactivity and microscale structural order.
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