Peptide hydrogels are a highly promising class of materials for biomedical application, albeit facing many challenges with regard to stability and tunability. Here, we report a new class of amphipathic peptide hydrogelators, namely mixed α/β-peptide hydrogelators. These mixed α/β-gelators possess good rheological properties (high storage moduli) and form transparent self-supporting gels with shear-thinning behavior. Infrared spectroscopy indicates the presence of β-sheets as the underlying secondary structure. Interestingly, self-assembled nanofibers of the mixed α/β-peptides display unique structural morphologies with alteration of the C-terminus (acid vs amide) playing a key role in the fiber formation and gelation properties of the resulting hydrogels. The incorporation of β3-homoamino acid residues within the mixed α/β-peptide gelators led to an increase in proteolytic stability of the peptides under nongelating conditions (in solution) as well as gelating conditions (as hydrogel). Under diluted conditions, degradation of mixed α/β-peptides in the presence of elastase was slowed down 120-fold compared to that of an α-peptide, thereby demonstrating beneficial enzymatic resistance for hydrogel applications in vivo. In addition, increased half-life values were obtained for the mixed α/β-peptides in human blood plasma, as compared to corresponding α-peptides. It was also found that the mixed α/β-peptides were amenable to injection via needles used for subcutaneous administrations. The preformed peptide gels could be sheared upon injection and were found to quickly reform to a state close to that of the original hydrogel. The shown properties of enhanced proteolytic stability and injectability hold great promise for the use of these novel mixed α/β-peptide hydrogels for applications in the areas of tissue engineering and drug delivery.
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