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Local, micromechanical environment is known to influence cellular function in heterogeneous hydrogels, and knowledge gained in micromechanics will facilitate the improved design of biomaterials for tissue regeneration. In this study, a system comprising microstructured resilin-like polypeptide (RLP)-poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) hydrogels is utilized. The micromechanical properties of RLP-PEG hydrogels are evaluated with oscillatory shear rheometry, compression dynamic mechanic analysis, small-strain microindentation, and large-strain indentation and puncture over a range of different deformation length scales. The measured elastic moduli are consistent with volume averaging models, indicating that volume fraction, not domain size, plays a dominant role in determining the low strain mechanical response. Large-strain indentation under a confocal microscope enables the visualization of the microstructured hydrogel micromechanical deformation, emphasizing the translation, rotation, and deformation of RLP-rich domains. The fracture initiation energy results demonstrate that failure of the composite hydrogels is controlled by the RLP-rich phase, and their independence with domain size suggested that failure initiation is controlled by multiple domains within the strained volume. This approach and findings provide new quantitative insight into the micromechanical response of soft hydrogel composites and highlight the opportunities in employing these methods to understand the physical origins of mechanical properties of soft synthetic and biological materials.
PMID: 32237050 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]