Biomacromolecules, Vol.5, No.3, 751-757, 2004
Phase behavior and hydration of silk fibroin
The osmotic stress method was applied to study the thermodynamics of supramolecular self-assembly phenomena in crystallizable segments of Bombyx mori silkworm silk fibroin. By controlling compositions and phases of silk fibroin solution, the method provided a means for the direct investigation of microscopic and thermodynamic details of these intermolecular interactions in aqueous media. It is apparent that as osmotic pressure increases, silk fibroin molecules are crowded together to form silk I structure and then with further increase in osmotic pressure become an antiparallel beta-sheet structure, silk II. A partial ternary phase diagram of water-silk fibroin-LiBr was constructed based on the results. The results provide quantitative evidence that the silk I structure must contain water of hydration. The enhanced control over structure and phase behavior using osmotic stress, as embodied in the phase diagram, could potentially be utilized to design a new route for water-based wet spinning of regenerated silk fibroin.