Biomacromolecules, Vol.20, No.4, 1719-1730, 2019
Active Modulation of States of Prestress in Self-Assembled Short Peptide Gels
Peptide hydrogels are excellent candidates for medical therapeutics due to their tuneable viscoelastic properties, however, in vivo they will be subject to various osmotic pressures, temperature changes, and biological co-solutes, which could alter their performance. Peptide hydrogels formed from the synthetic peptide I3K have a temperature-induced hardening of their shear modulus by a factor of 2. We show that the addition of uncross-linked poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) chains to the peptide gels increases the gels' temperature sensitivity by 3 orders of magnitude through the control of osmotic swelling and cross-linking. Using machine learning combined with single-molecule fluorescence microscopy, we measured the modulation of states of prestress in the gels on the level of single peptide fibers. A new self-consistent mixture model was developed to simultaneously quantify the energy and the length distributions of the states of prestress. Switching the temperature from 20 to 40 degrees C causes 6-fold increases in the number of states of prestress. At the higher temperature, many of the fibers experience constrained buckling with characteristic small wavelength oscillations in their curvature.