In physiological fluids and seawater, adhesion of synthetic polymers to solid surfaces is impaired by high salt, pH, and hydration. However, mussels have evolved effective strategies for wet adhesion despite these impediments. Inspection of mussel foot proteins (Mfps) provides insights into adhesive adaptations. Catecholic Dopa (3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine) and lysine residues are present in high mole percent in the interfacial Mfps. The siderophore cyclic trichrysobactin also contains high mole percent of catechol and lysine and serves as a simplified mimic of Mfps.
This work is focused on use of Mfp-mimetic siderophores and synthetic siderophore analogs as model systems for dissecting the chemical and physical interactions that enable wet adhesion. Variation in number and identity of functional groups appended to the synthetic siderophore analogs allows identification of the specific contributions of those functional groups to wet adhesion. Both catechol and amine functional groups are critical to strong wet adhesion. The primary amine of lysine and catechol cooperatively displace interfacial hydration and bind to the underlying substrate. Variation in the amine identity as well as the amine to catechol ratio within siderophore analogs also has a significant impact on wet adhesive performance.
Catechol undergoes a pH-dependent autoxidation in which higher pH leads to faster oxidation by dioxygen. This oxidation abolishes all adhesion of Mfps to mica by pH 7.5, yet many applications of synthetic wet adhesives require adhesion at physiological or oceanic pH. A better understanding of catechol redox chemistry is critical to the design of wet adhesives. To this end, the pH-dependent autoxidation of catechol and substituted catechols was investigated and results are consistent with a mechanism in which O2 oxidizes both the mono-deprotonated and di-deprotonated catechol. A linear Hammett correlation for the pH-independent second order rate constants for catechol autoxidation indicates that catechols become resistant to autoxidation when functionalized with electron withdrawing groups and more susceptible to autoxidation when functionalized with electron donating groups. Analysis of substituent effects through Hammett correlation allows for selection of functionalized catechols with redox properties ideally suited for a given application.