Ionization and solubility of chitosan solutions related to thermosensitive chitosan/glycerol-phosphate systems

Biomacromolecules. 2007 Oct;8(10):3224-34. doi: 10.1021/bm700520m. Epub 2007 Sep 13.


Chitosan is a linear cationic biopolymer composed of glucosamine and N-acetyl-glucosamine that is only soluble in acidic aqueous solutions and precipitates when neutralized. However, it was recently discovered that chitosan dissolved in solutions containing glycerol phosphate was soluble at near neutral pH and produced a sol-gel transition when heated. Understanding this unique thermogelling system requires improved characterization of the ionization and solubility behaviors of chitosan, in particular dependencies on temperature, salt, chitosan concentration, and fD, where fD is the fraction of glucosamine monomers (deacetylated monomers) in chitosan. In the current study we performed temperature-controlled titration and dilution experiments on chitosan solutions with fD of 0.72, 0.85, and 0.98 at concentrations ranging from 1.875 to 30 mM of its glucosamine monomer and with 0 to 150 mM added salt. Light transmittance measurements were performed during titration to indicate precipitation. We found the apparent proton dissociation constant of chitosan, pKap, to (1) decrease strongly with increased temperature, (2) increase strongly with increased salt, (3) increase strongly with increased chitosan concentration in low-salt conditions, and (4) decrease weakly with increasing fD. All of the above influences on chitosan pKap were accurately predicted using a mean-field Poisson-Boltzmann (PB) cylindrical cell model where the only adjustable parameter was the temperature-dependent chitosan intrinsic monomeric dissociation constant pK0(T). The resulting chitosan pK0 values at 25 degrees C were in the range from 6.63 to 6.78 for all chitosans and salt contents tested. The temperature dependence of chitosan ionization was found to strongly reduce pK0(T) by 0.023 units per degrees C, for example, resulting in a reduction of chitosan pK0(T) from 7.1 at 5 degrees C to 6.35 at 37 degrees C for fD of 0.72 in 150 mM salt. A similar temperature-dependent reduction of the pKa of the glucosamine monomer was found (-0.027 units per degrees C) while the pKa of glycerol phosphate did not change significantly with temperature. The latter result suggested that chitosan solutions heated in the presence of glycerol phosphate will become partly neutralized by transferring protons to glycerol phosphate and thereby allow attractive interchain forces to form a physically cross-linked gel under the appropriate conditions. Additionally, the degree of ionization of chitosan when it precipitates upon addition of a strong base was measured to be in the range from 0.25 to 0.55 and was found to (1) be insensitive to temperature, (2) increase strongly with increased salt, and (3) increase strongly with fD. The salt effect was accounted for by the PB model, while the influence of fD appeared to be due to acetyl groups impeding attractive chain-to-chain association to increase solubility and require reduced ionization levels to precipitate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Chitosan / chemistry*
  • Cross-Linking Reagents / chemistry
  • Electrochemistry / methods*
  • Equipment Design
  • Glycerophosphates / chemistry*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Hydrogen Bonding
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ions
  • Models, Statistical
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Solubility
  • Temperature


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Glycerophosphates
  • Ions
  • Chitosan