Mucoadhesion is defined as the adhesion of a material to the mucus gel covering the mucous membranes. The mechanisms controlling mucoadhesion include nonspecific electrostatic interactions and specific interactions between the materials and the mucins, the heavily glycosylated proteins that form the mucus gel. Mucoadhesive materials can be used to develop mucosal wound dressings, and noninvasive transmucosal drug delivery systems.
Spider silk, which is strong, biocompatible, biodegradable, nontoxic and lightweight would serve as an excellent base for the development of such materials. Here, we investigated two variants of the partial spider silk protein 4RepCT genetically engineered in order to functionalize them with mucoadhesive properties. The pLys-4RepCT variant was functionalized with six cationically charged lysines, aiming to provide nonspecific adhesion from electrostatic interactions with the anionically charged mucins, while the hGal3-4RepCT variant was genetically fused with the Human Galectin-3 Carbohydrate Recognition Domain which specifically binds the mucin glycans Galβ1-3GlcNAc and Galβ1-4GlcNAc.
First, we demonstrated that coatings, fibers, meshes, and foams can be readily made from both silk variants. Measured by the adsorption of both bovine submaxillary mucin and pig gastric mucin, the newly produced silk materials showed enhanced mucin binding properties compared to materials of wildtype (4RepCT) silk. Moreover, we showed that pLys-4RepCT silk coatings bind mucins through electrostatic interactions, while hGal3-4RepCT silk coatings bind mucins through specific glycan-protein interactions. We envision that the two new mucoadhesive silk variants pLys-4RepCT and hGal3-4RepCT, alone or combined with other biofunctional silk proteins, constitute useful new building blocks for a range of silk protein-based materials for mucosal treatments.