β Sheets Not Required: Combined Experimental and Computational Studies of Self-Assembly and Gelation of the Ester-Containing Analogue of an Fmoc-Dipeptide Hydrogelator
American Chemical Society (ACS) -- Langmuir
DOI 10.1021/la500679b
Abstract(s)

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In our work toward developing ester-containing self-assembling peptides as soft biomaterials, we have found that a fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl (Fmoc)-conjugated alanine-lactic acid (Ala-Lac) sequence self-assembles into nanostructures that gel in water. This process occurs despite Fmoc-Ala-Lac’s inability to interact with other Fmoc-Ala-Lac molecules via β-sheet-like amide–amide hydrogen bonding, a condition previously thought to be crucial to the self-assembly of Fmoc-conjugated peptides. Experimental comparisons of Fmoc-Ala-Lac to its self-assembling peptide sequence analogue Fmoc-Ala-Ala using a variety of microscopic, spectroscopic, and bulk characterization techniques demonstrate distinct features of the two systems and show that while angstrom-scale self-assembled structures are similar, their nanometer-scale size and morphological properties diverge and give rise to different bulk mechanical properties. Molecular dynamics simulations were performed to gain more insight into the differences between the two systems. An analysis of the hydrogen-bonding and solvent-surface interface properties of the simulated fibrils revealed that Fmoc-Ala-Lac fibrils are stronger and less hydrophilic than Fmoc-Ala-Ala fibrils. We propose that this difference in fibril amphiphilicity gives rise to differences in the higher-order assembly of fibrils into nanostructures seen in TEM. Importantly, we confirm experimentally that β-sheet-type hydrogen bonding is not crucial to the self-assembly of short, conjugated peptides, and we demonstrate computationally that the amide bond in such systems may act mainly to mediate the solvation of the self-assembled single fibrils and therefore regulate a more extensive higher-order aggregation of fibrils. This work provides a basic understanding for future research in designing highly degradable self-assembling materials with peptide-like bioactivity for biomedical applications.