Biomacromolecules, Vol.19, No.2, 576-587, 2018
Cold and Hot Gelling of Alginate-graft-PNIPAM: a Schizophrenic Behavior Induced by Potassium Salts
Recently, alginates (ALG) characterized by high mannuronic content (M blocks) have been shown to undergo a reversible sol/gel transition during cooling in the presence of potassium salts. Cold gelling takes place at low temperatures, just below 0 degrees C for a KCl concentration of 0.3 mol/kg, but the aggregation process can be easily shifted to higher temperatures by increasing the salt concentration. In the present paper, we take advantage of this peculiar behavior to design a copolymer with schizophrenic gelling properties. For this purpose, side chains of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM), characterized by a Lower Critical Solution Temperature (LCST) in water, were grafted on the alginate backbone. Working in semidilute solutions, we show by coupling DSC and viscoelastic measurements that ALG-g-PNIPAM solutions are able to form gels either by cooling or heating depending on the ionic environment. As the aggregation process of ALG and PNIPAM depends mainly and respectively on the nature of the cations and anions, the choice of the salt is then critical to control the self-assembly behavior and the gel properties. Moreover, as the gelation process of alginates driven by the aggregation of mannuronic sequences is characterized by a large hysteresis of 20-30 degrees C between gelling and melting, both ALG and ALG-g-PNIPAM polymers offer a large versatility not only in terms of salt (nature and concentration) but also in preparation history as different states (sol or gel) can be obtained at room temperature.