The rapid manufacture of silk fibroin gels in mild conditions is an important subject in the field of silk-based biomaterials. In this study, the gelation of Antheraea pernyi silk fibroin (ASF) aqueous solution was induced by shearing, without chemical cross-linking agents. Simple shearing controlled and accomplished the steady and rapid conformational transition to β-sheets with ease. The conformational transformation and rapid gelation mechanisms of ASF induced by shearing were tracked and analyzed by circular dichroism spectrometry, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and X-ray diffractometry, then compared with Bombyx mori silk fibroin (BSF). ASF quickly formed hydrogels within 24 - 48 h after shearing under different shearing rates for 30 - 90 min, resulting in sol-gel transformation when the β-sheet content reached nearly 50%, which is the minimum content needed to maintain a stable hydrogel system in ASF. The gel structures remained stable once formed. The rapid gelation of ASF through shearing compared with BSF was achieved because of ASF’s alternating polyalanine-containing units, which tend to form α-helix structures spontaneously. Further, the entropic cost during the conformational transition from the α-helix to the β-sheet structure is less than the cost of the transition from the random coil structure. This method is a simple, non-chemical cross-linking approach for the promotion of rapid gelation and the protection of the biological properties of ASF, and it may prove useful for application in the field of biomedical materials.
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