Versatile tuning of supramolecular hydrogels through metal complexation of oxidation-resistant catechol-inspired ligands
The mussel byssal cuticle employs DOPA–Fe3+ complexation to provide strong, yet reversible crosslinking. Synthetic constructs employing this design motif based on catechol units are plagued by oxidation-driven degradation of the catechol units and the requirement for highly alkaline pH conditions leading to decreased performance and loss of supramolecular properties. Herein, a platform based on a 4-arm poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel system is used to explore the utility of DOPA analogues such as the parent catechol and derivatives, 4-nitrocatechol (nCat) and 3-hydroxy-4-pyridinonone (HOPO), as structural crosslinking agents upon complexation with metal ions. HOPO moieties are found to hold particular promise, as robust gelation with Fe3+ occurs at physiological pH and is found to be largely resistant to oxidative degradation. Gelation is also shown to be triggered by other biorelevant metal ions such as Al3+, Ga3+ and Cu2+ which allows for tuning of the release and dissolution profiles with potential application as injectable delivery systems.