The mechanical behavior of a series of strong polyelectrolyte hydrogels based on acrylamide and 2-acrylamido-2-methylpropane sulfonic acid sodium salt (AMPS) was investigated. The hydrogels were prepared at a fixed crosslinker ratio and monomer concentration, but at various charge densities, i.e. AMPS contents between 0 and 100 mol%. The elastic modulus of the hydrogels after their preparation first increases with increasing charge density but then decreases continuously. Investigation of the swollen state properties of the hydrogels shows existence of a large number of ionic groups inside the gel that are ineffective in gel swelling. The results indicate two opposite effects of charged groups on the elastic modulus of the hydrogels: formation of multiplets acting as additional crosslinks in the gel increases the elastic modulus of ionic hydrogels, whereas the effect of the electrostatic interaction of charged groups on elastic free energy decreases the modulus. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.