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Time-resolved FTIR analysis was used to monitor the conformation transition induced by treating regenerated Bombyx mori silk fibroin films and solutions with different concentrations of ethanol. The resulting curves showing the kinetics of the transition for both films and fibroin solutions were influenced by the ethanol concentration. In addition, for silk fibroin solutions the protein concentration also had an effect on the kinetics. At low ethanol concentrations (for example, less than 40% v/v in the case of film), films and fibroin solutions showed a phase in which beta-sheets slowly formed at a rate dependent on the ethanol concentration. Reducing the concentration of the fibroin in solutions also slowed the formation of beta-sheets. These observations suggest that this phase represents a nucleation step. Such a nucleation phase was not seen in the conformation transition at ethanol concentrations > 40% in films or > 50% in silk fibroin solutions. Our results indicate that the ethanol-induced conformation transition of silk fibroin in films and solutions is a three-phase process. The first phase is the initiation of beta-sheet structure (nucleation), the second is a fast phase of beta-sheet growth while the third phase represents a slow perfection of previously formed beta-sheet structure. The nucleation step can be very fast or relatively slow, depending on factors that influence protein chain mobility and intermolecular hydrogen bond formation. The findings give support to the previous evidence that natural silk spinning in silkworms is nucleation-dependent, and that silkworms (like spiders) use concentrated silk protein solutions, and careful control of the pH value and metallic ion content of the processing environment to speed up the nucleation step to produce a rapid conformation transition to convert the water soluble spinning dope to a tough solid silk fiber.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





223 - 231


Animals, Bombyx, Ethanol, Kinetics, Protein Structure, Secondary, Silk, Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared