Erosion behaviour governs the use of physical hydrogels in biomedical applications ranging from controlled release to cell encapsulation. Genetically engineered protein hydrogels offer unique means of controlling the erosion rate by engineering their amino acid sequences and network topology. Here, we show that the erosion rate of such materials can be tuned by harnessing selective molecular recognition, discrete aggregation number and orientational discrimination of coiled-coil protein domains. Hydrogels formed from a triblock artificial protein bearing dissimilar helical coiled-coil end domains (P and A) erode more than one hundredfold slower than hydrogels formed from those bearing the same end domains (either P or A). The reduced erosion rate is a consequence of the fact that looped chains are suppressed because P and A tend not to associate with each other. Thus, the erosion rate can be tuned over several orders of magnitude in artificial protein hydrogels, opening the door to diverse biomedical applications.
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The authors acknowledge the NSF Center for the Science and Engineering of Materials for financial support. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to J.A.K. or D.A.T. Supplementary Information accompanies this paper on www.nature.com/naturematerials.
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