Mechanistic insights into the directed assembly of hydrogel blocks mediated by polyelectrolytes or microgels
Article [Accepted Manuscript]
Is part ofLangmuir ; vol. 33, no. 15, pp. 3864-3870.
In this study, we report the directed assembly of hydrogel blocks mediated by electrostatic interactions. We compared two different assembly mechanisms, one mediated by microgel particles and another mediated by direct interaction between oppositely charged blocks. The system consisted of hydrogel blocks made of an interpenetrated network of (hydroxyethyl)methacrylate-poly(ethylene glycol)dimethacrylate (HEMA-PEGDMA) and either positively charged polyethylenimine (PEI) or negatively charged hyaluronic acid (HA). Positively charged hydrogel blocks were pretreated with negatively charged microgel particles (MG) made of N-isopropylacrylamide-methacrylic acid. Both systems (PEI/HA and PEI/MG) demonstrated spontaneous directed assembly, meaning that positive blocks were systematically found in contact with oppositely charged blocks. Directed assembly in water of PEI/HA blocks resulted in large and open aggregates, while PEI/MG blocks exhibited more compact aggregates. Effects of salt and pH were also assessed for both systems. Inhibition of blocks aggregation was found to appear above a critical salt concentration (CSalt*) which was significantly higher for the PEI/HA system (80 mM) compared to the PEI/MG system (5-20 mM). The observed difference was interpreted in terms of the nanostructure of the contact area between blocks. Blocks aggregation was also found to be controlled by the content of negatively charged groups in the microgels as well as the concentration of MG in the suspension (CMG) used to treat the hydrogel block surfaces. Our results shine light on the subtle differences underlying the adhesion mechanisms between hydrogel blocks and suggest new routes toward the design of innovative complex soft materials.