Crosslinking structure of keratin. II. Intermolecular and intramolecular crosslinks in potassium-cyanide-treated wool fibers



The crosslinking structure of keratin fibers has been investigated. The reaction of wool with aqueous KCN was studied by means of chemical and physical methods. Quantitative conversion of disulfide (SS) groups of the cystine (Cys) residues into stable thioether (S) linkages was confirmed. In terms of mechanically effective and noneffective crosslinkages, the amounts of intermolecular and intramolecular crosslinks in the KCN-treated wools were determined from the analysis of the corresponding amino acids and mechanical experiment in which the shear modulus of swollen, rubberlike samples is determined from the relation between equilibrium stress and strain for simple extension of the fiber in a diluent. A modified elastic equation of state was used for the calculation of the number of intermolecular crosslinks. The front factor in the equation used was determined by combining the results obtained from purely chemical kinetics and the values of shear modulus of the swollen wools. The ratio of the number of intermolecular and intramolecular SS crosslinkages in the Lincoln wool, was found to be 64:36. The reactivity of the former is much higher than that of the latter, and these two types of SS crosslinks form substantially the same type of S crosslinks. The fraction of the Cys residues accessible to cyanideions depends mainly on the reaction temperature.