Superhydrophilic zwitterionic polymers derived from trimethylamine N-oxide are reported as a new class of nonfouling materials.
Materials that resist nonspecific protein adsorption are needed for many applications. However, few are able to achieve ultralow fouling in complex biological milieu. Zwitterionic polymers emerge as a class of highly effective ultralow fouling materials due to their superhydrophilicity, outperforming other hydrophilic materials such as poly(ethylene glycol). Unfortunately, there are only three major classes of zwitterionic materials based on poly(phosphorylcholine), poly(sulfobetaine), and poly(carboxybetaine) currently available. Inspired by trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a zwitterionic osmolyte and the most effective protein stabilizer, we here report TMAO-derived zwitterionic polymers (PTMAO) as a new class of ultralow fouling biomaterials. The nonfouling properties of PTMAO were demonstrated under highly challenging conditions. The mechanism accounting for the extraordinary hydration of PTMAO was elucidated by molecular dynamics simulations. The discovery of PTMAO polymers demonstrates the power of molecular understanding in the design of new biomimetic materials and provides the biomaterials community with another class of nonfouling zwitterionic materials.