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Strong Reversible Fe3+-mediated Bridging Between Dopa-containing Protein Films In Water

Hongbo Zeng, D. Hwang, J. Israelachvili, J. Waite
Published 2010 · Chemistry, Medicine

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Metal-containing polymer networks are widespread in biology, particularly for load-bearing exoskeletal biomaterials. Mytilus byssal cuticle is an especially interesting case containing moderate levels of Fe3+ and cuticle protein—mussel foot protein-1 (mfp-1), which has a peculiar combination of high hardness and high extensibility. Mfp-1, containing 13 mol % of dopa (3, 4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) side-chains, is highly positively charged polyelectrolyte (pI ∼ 10) and didn’t show any cohesive tendencies in previous surface forces apparatus (SFA) studies. Here, we show that Fe3+ ions can mediate unusually strong interactions between the positively charged proteins. Using an SFA, Fe3+ was observed to impart robust bridging (Wad ≈ 4.3 mJ/m2) between two noninteracting mfp-1 films in aqueous buffer approaching the ionic strength of seawater. The Fe3+ bridging between the mfp-1-coated surfaces is fully reversible in water, increasing with contact time and iron concentration up to 10 μM; at 100 μM, Fe3+ bridging adhesion is abolished. Bridging is apparently due to the formation of multivalent dopa-iron complexes. Similar Fe-mediated bridging (Wad ≈ 5.7 mJ/m2) by a smaller recombinant dopa-containing analogue indicates that bridging is largely independent of molecular weight and posttranslational modifications other than dopa. The results suggest that dopa-metal interactions may provide an energetic new paradigm for engineering strong, self-healing interactions between polymers under water.
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