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Biomacromolecules. 2005 Mar-Apr;6(2):1031-40.

New hypothesis on the role of alternating sequences in calcium-alginate gels.

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Institute of Biotechnology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Sem Saelands V. 6/8, 7491 Trondheim, Norway.


The availability of mannuronan and mannuronan C-5 epimerases allows the production of a strictly alternating mannuronate-guluronate (MG) polymer and the MG-enrichment of natural alginates, providing a powerful tool for the analysis of the role of such sequences in the calcium-alginate gel network. In view of the calcium binding properties of long alternating sequences revealed by circular dichroism studies which leads eventually to the formation of stable hydrogels, their direct involvement in the gel network is here suggested. In particular, 1H NMR results obtained from a mixed alginate sample containing three polymeric species, G blocks, M blocks, and MG blocks, without chemical linkages between the block structures, indicate for the first time the formation of mixed junctions between G and MG blocks. This is supported by the analysis of the Young's modulus of hydrogels from natural and epimerized samples obtained at low calcium concentrations. Furthermore, the "zipping" of long alternating sequences in secondary MG/MG junctions is suggested to account for the shrinking (syneresis) of alginate gels in view of its dependence on the length of the MG blocks. As a consequence, a partial network collapse, macroscopically revealed by a decrease in the Young's modulus, occurred as the calcium concentration in the gel was increased. The effect of such "secondary" junctions on the viscoelastic properties of alginate gels was evaluated measuring their creep compliance under uniaxial compression. The experimental curves, fitted by a model composed of a Maxwell and a Voigt element in series, revealed an increase in the frictional forces between network chains with increasing length of the alternating sequences. This suggests the presence of an ion mediated mechanism preventing the shear of the gel.

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