Stereochemical Control Yields Mucin Mimetic Polymers
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1021/acscentsci.0c01569
All animals except sponges produce mucus. Across the animal kingdom, this hydrogel mediates surface wetting, viscosity, and protection against microbes. The primary components of mucus hydrogels are mucins-high molecular weight O-glycoproteins that adopt extended linear structures. Glycosylation is integral to mucin function, but other characteristics that give rise to their advantageous biological activities are unknown. We postulated that the extended conformation of mucins is critical for their ability to block microbial virulence phenotypes. To test this hypothesis, we developed synthetic mucin mimics that recapitulate the dense display of glycans and morphology of mucin. We varied the catalyst in a ring-opening metathesis polymerization (ROMP) to generate substituted norbornene-derived glycopolymers containing either cis- or trans-alkenes. Conformational analysis of the polymers based on allylic strain suggested that cis- rather than trans-poly(norbornene) glycopolymers would adopt linear structures that mimic mucins. High-resolution atomic force micrographs of our polymers and natively purified Muc2, Muc5AC, and Muc5B mucins revealed that cis-polymers adopt extended, mucin-like structures. The cis-polymers retained this structure in solution and were more water-soluble than their trans-analogs. Consistent with mucin's linear morphology, cis-glycopolymers were more potent binders of a bacterial virulence factor, cholera toxin. Our findings highlight the importance of the polymer backbone in mucin surrogate design and underscore the significance of the extended mucin backbone for inhibiting virulence.