F. Tampieri et al. Does non-thermal plasma modify biopolymers in solution? A chemical and mechanistic study for alginate. Biomaterials Science

F. Tampieri, A. Espona-Noguera, C. Labay, M.P. Ginebra, M. Yusupov, A. Bogaerts C. Canal. Does non-thermal plasma modify biopolymers in solution? A chemical and mechanistic study for alginate. Biomater. Sci., 2023, 11, 4845. OPEN ACCESS

doi: 10.1039/d3bm00212h


In the last decades, non-thermal plasma has been extensively investigated as a relevant tool for various biomedical applications, ranging from tissue decontamination to regeneration and from skin treatment to tumor therapies. This high versatility is due to the different kinds and amount of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species that can be generated during a plasma treatment and put in contact with the biological target. Some recent studies report that solutions of biopolymers with the ability to generate hydrogels, when treated with plasma, can enhance the generation of reactive species and influence their stability, resulting thus in the ideal media for indirect treatments of biological targets. The direct effects of the plasma treatment on the structure of biopolymers in water solution, as well as the chemical mechanisms responsible for the enhanced generation of RONS, are not yet fully understood. In this study, we aim at filling this gap by investigating, on the one hand, the nature and extent of the modifications induced by plasma treatment in alginate solutions, and, on the other hand, at using this information to explain the mechanisms responsible for the enhanced generation of reactive species as a consequence of the treatment. The approach we use is twofold: (i) investigating the effects of plasma treatment on alginate solutions, by size exclusion chromatography, rheology and scanning electron microscopy and (ii) study of a molecular model (glucuronate) sharing its chemical structure, by chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry and by molecular dynamics simulations. Our results point out the active role of the biopolymer chemistry during direct plasma treatment. Short-lived reactive species, such as OH radicals and O atoms, can modify the polymer structure, affecting its functional groups and causing partial fragmentation. Some of these chemical modifications, like the generation of organic peroxide, are likely responsible for the secondary generation of long-lived reactive species such as hydrogen peroxide and nitrite ions. This is relevant in view of using biocompatible hydrogels as vehicles for storage and delivery reactive species for targeted therapies.