Local structure of Ca2+ alginate hydrogels gelled via competitive ligand exchange and measured by small angle X-ray scattering
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Alginates, being linear anionic co-polymers of 1,4-linked residues β-d-ManA (M) and α-l-GulA (G), are widely applied as hydrogel biomaterials due to their favourable in vivo biocompatibility and convenient ionic crosslinking. The “egg-box” model is the prevailing description of the local structure of junction zones that form between the alginate chains and divalent cations, such as Ca2+, when ionic gelation occurs. In the present study we address to what extent signatures of lateral dimerization and further lateral association of junction zones also represent a valid model for the gelation of alginate using the recently reported method of competitive ligand exchange of chelated Ca2+ ions as a method for introducing gelling ions at constant pH. Small angle X-ray scattering with a q range from 0.1 to 3.3 nm−1 was employed to determine local structure in the hydrogel, using a custom-made fluid sample cell inserted in the X-ray beam. The scattering volume was intended to be localized to the contact zone between the two injected aqueous alginate solutions, and data was captured to resolve the kinetics of the structure formation at three different conditions of pH. The data show evolution of the local structure for the Ca2+ induced formation of junction zones in an alginate with 68% G residues, characterized by cross-sectional radii that could be accounted for by a two-component, broken rod like model. The evolution of the two component weight fractions apparently underpinned the connectivity, as reflected in the rheological data.