Strongly Stretched Protein Resistant Poly(ethylene glycol) Brushes Prepared by Grafting-To

We present a new grafting-to method for resistant “non-fouling” poly­(ethylene glycol) brushes, which is based on grafting of polymers with reactive end groups in 0.9 M Na<sub>2</sub>SO<sub>4</sub> at room temperature. The grafting process, the resulting brushes, and the resistance toward biomolecular adsorption are investigated by surface plasmon resonance, quartz crystal microbalance, and atomic force microscopy. We determine both grafting density and thickness independently and use narrow molecular weight distributions which result in well-defined brushes. High density (e.g., 0.4 coils per nm<sup>2</sup> for 10 kDa) and thick (40 nm for 20 kDa) brushes are readily achieved that suppress adsorption from complete serum (10× dilution, exposure for 50 min) by up to 99% on gold (down to 4 ng/cm<sup>2</sup> protein coverage). The brushes outperform oligo­(ethylene glycol) monolayers prepared on the same surfaces and analyzed in the same manner. The brush heights are in agreement with calculations based on a simple model similar to the de Gennes “strongly stretched” brush, where the height is proportional to molecular weight. This result has so far generally been considered to be possible only for brushes prepared by grafting-from. Our results are consistent with the theory that the brushes act as kinetic barriers rather than efficient prevention of adsorption at equilibrium. We suggest that the free energy barrier for passing the brush depends on both monomer concentration and thickness. The extraordinary simplicity of the method and good inert properties of the brushes should make our results widely applicable in biointerface science.