Water-insoluble regenerated silk materials are normally produced by increasing the β-sheet content (silk II). In the present study water-insoluble silk films were prepared by controlling the very slow drying of Bombyx mori silk solutions, resulting in the formation of stable films with a predominant silk I instead of silk II structure. Wide angle X-ray scattering indicated that the silk films stabilized by slow drying were mainly composed of silk I rather than silk II, while water- and methanol-annealed silk films had a higher silk II content. The silk films prepared by slow drying had a globule-like structure at the core surrounded by nano-filaments. The core region was composed of silk I and silk II, surrounded by hydrophilic nano-filaments containing random turns and α-helix secondary structures. The insoluble silk films prepared by slow drying had unique thermal, mechanical and degradative properties. Differential scanning calorimetry results revealed that silk I crystals had stable thermal properties up to 250 °C, without crystallization above the Tg, but degraded at lower temperatures than silk II structure. Compared with water- and methanol-annealed films the films prepared by slow drying had better mechanical ductility and were more rapidly enzymatically degraded, reflecting the differences in secondary structure achieved via differences in post processing of the cast silk films. Importantly, the silk I structure, a key intermediate secondary structure for the formation of mechanically robust natural silk fibers, was successfully generated by the present approach of very slow drying, mimicking the natural process. The results also point to a new mode of generating new types of silk biomaterials with enhanced mechanical properties and increased degradation rates, while maintaining water insolubility, along with a low β-sheet content.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Biomedical Engineering