For biomedical applications, gelatin is usually modified with methacryloyl groups to obtain gelatin methacryloyl (GelMA), which can be crosslinked by a radical reaction induced by low wavelength light to form mechanically stable hydrogels. The potential of GelMA hydrogels for tissue engineering has been well established, however, one of the main disadvantages of mammalian-origin gelatins is that their sol-gel transitions are close to room temperature, resulting in significant variations in viscosity that can be a problem for biofabrication applications. For these applications, cold-water fish-derived gelatins, such as salmon gelatin, are a good alternative due to their lower viscosity, viscoelastic and mechanical properties, as well as lower sol-gel transition temperatures, when compared with mammalian gelatins. However, information regarding GelMA (with special focus on salmon GelMA as a model for cold-water species) molecular conformation and the effect of pH prior to crosslinking, which is key for fabrication purposes since it will determine final hydrogel’s structure, remains scarce. The aim of this work is to characterize salmon gelatin (SGel) and salmon methacryloyl gelatin (SGelMA) molecular configuration at two different acidic pHs (3.6 and 4.8) and to compare them to commercial porcine gelatin (PGel) and methacryloyl porcine gelatin (PGelMA), usually used for biomedical applications. Specifically, we evaluated gelatin and GelMA samples’ molecular weight, isoelectric point (IEP), their molecular configuration by circular dichroism (CD), and determined their rheological and thermophysical properties. Results showed that functionalization affected gelatin molecular weight and IEP. Additionally, functionalization and pH affected gelatin molecular structure and rheological and thermal properties. Interestingly, the SGel and SGelMA molecular structure was more sensitive to pH changes, showing differences in gelation temperatures and triple helix formation than PGelMA. This work suggests that SGelMA presents high tunability as a biomaterial for biofabrication, highlighting the importance of a proper GelMA molecular configuration characterization prior to hydrogel fabrication.
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