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Kinetic Analysis Reveals the Role of Secondary Nucleation in Regenerated Silk Fibroin Self-Assembly.

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Kamada, Ayaka 
Toprakcioglu, Zenon  ORCID logo


Silk proteins obtained from the Bombyx mori silkworm have been extensively studied due to their remarkable mechanical properties. One of the major structural components of this complex material is silk fibroin, which can be isolated and processed further in vitro to form artificial functional materials. Due to the excellent biocompatibility and rich self-assembly behavior, there has been sustained interest in such materials formed through the assembly of regenerated silk fibroin feedstocks. The molecular mechanisms by which the soluble regenerated fibroin molecules self-assemble into protein nanofibrils remain, however, largely unknown. Here, we use the framework of chemical kinetics to connect macroscopic measurements of regenerated silk fibroin self-assembly to the underlying microscopic mechanisms. Our results reveal that the aggregation of regenerated silk fibroin is dominated by a nonclassical secondary nucleation processes, where the formation of new fibrils is catalyzed by the existing aggregates in an autocatalytic manner. Such secondary nucleation pathways were originally discovered in the context of polymerization of disease-associated proteins, but the present results demonstrate that this pathway can also occur in functional assembly. Furthermore, our results show that shear flow induces the formation of nuclei, which subsequently accelerate the process of aggregation through an autocatalytic amplification driven by the secondary nucleation pathway. Taken together, these results allow us to identify the parameters governing the kinetics of regenerated silk fibroin self-assembly and expand our current understanding of the spinning of bioinspired protein-based fibers, which have a wide range of applications in materials science.


Funder: Frances and Augustus Newman Foundation

Funder: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council


Animals, Fibroins, Kinetics, Silk, Bombyx

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American Chemical Society (ACS)
European Research Council (337969)