The reaction mechanism of chitosan, bovine serum albumin (BSA), and gelatin with genipin (a natural crosslinking reagent) was examined with infrared, ultraviolet–visible, and 13C NMR spectroscopies; protein-transfer reaction mass spectrometry; photon correlation spectroscopy; and dynamic oscillatory rheometry. Two reactions that proceeded at different rates led to the formation of crosslinks between primary amine groups. The fastest reaction to occur was a nucleophilic attack on genipin by a primary amine group that led to the formation of a heterocyclic compound of genipin linked to the glucosamine residue in chitosan and the basic residues in BSA and gelatin. The second, slower, reaction was the nucleophilic substitution of the ester group possessed by genipin to form a secondary amide link with chitosan, BSA, or gelatin. A decreased crosslinking rate in the presence of deuterium oxide rather than water suggested that acid catalysis was necessary for one or both of the reactions to proceed. The behavior of the gel time with polymer concentration was consistent with second-order gelation kinetics resulting from an irreversible crosslinking process, but was complicated by the oxygen radical-induced polymerization of genipin that caused the gels to assume a blue color in the presence of air. The lower elastic modulus attained after a given time during crosslinking of the globular protein BSA as compared to the coiled protein gelatin, despite possessing more crosslinkable basic residues, demonstrated the importance of protein secondary and tertiary structures in determining the availability of sites for crosslinking with genipin in protein systems. © 2003 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Polym Sci Part A: Polym Chem 41: 3941–3953, 2003
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