Silk proteins are a promising material for drug delivery due to their aqueous processability, biocompatibility, and biodegradability. A simple aqueous preparation method for silk fibroin particles with controllable size, secondary structure and zeta potential is reported. The particles were produced by salting out a silk fibroin solution with potassium phosphate. The effect of ionic strength and pH of potassium phosphate solution on the yield and morphology of the particles was determined. Secondary structure and zeta potential of the silk particles could be controlled by pH. Particles produced by salting out with 1.25 m potassium phosphate pH 6 showed a dominating silk II (crystalline) structure whereas particles produced at pH 9 were mainly composed of silk I (less crystalline). The results show that silk I-rich particles possess chemical and physical stability and secondary structure which remained unchanged during post treatments even upon exposure to 100% ethanol or methanol. A model is presented to explain the process of particle formation based on intra- and intermolecular interactions of the silk domains, influenced by pH and kosmotropic salts. The reported silk fibroin particles can be loaded with small molecule model drugs, such as alcian blue, rhodamine B, and crystal violet, by simple absorption based on electrostatic interactions. In vitro release of these compounds from the silk particles depends on charge-charge interactions between the compounds and the silk. With crystal violet we demonstrated that the release kinetics are dependent on the secondary structure of the particles.
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