We demonstrate a novel route for hierarchical self-assembly of sub-micrometer-sized peptide superstructures that respond to subtle changes in Zn2+ concentration. The self-assembly process is triggered by a specific folding-dependent coordination of Zn2+ by a de novo designed nonlinear helix-loop-helix peptide, resulting in a propagating fiber formation and formation of spherical superstructures. The superstructures further form larger assemblies that can be completely disassembled upon removal of Zn2+ or degradation of the nonlinear peptide. This flexible and reversible assembly strategy of the superstructures enables facile encapsulation of nanoparticles and drugs that can be released by means of different stimuli.
Funding Agencies|Swedish Research Council [621-2011-4319]; Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research [ICA10-0002]; Linkoping University; Swedish Government Strategic Research Area in Materials Science on Functional Materials at Linkoping University [2009 00971]
Biomaterials are materials that are specifically designed to be in contact with biological systems and have for a long time been used in medicine. Examples of biomaterials range from sophisticated prostheses used for replacing outworn body parts to ordinary contact lenses. Currently it is possible to create biomaterials that can e.g. specifically interact with cells or respond to certain stimuli. Peptides, the shorter version of proteins, are excellent molecules for fabrication of such biomaterials. By following and developing design rules it is possible to obtain peptides that can self-assemble into well-defined nanostructures and biomaterials.
The aim of this thesis is to create ”smart” and tunable biomaterials by molecular self-assembly using dimerizing –helical polypeptides. Two different, but structurally related, polypeptide-systems have been used in this thesis. The EKIV-polypeptide system was developed in this thesis and consists of four 28-residue polypeptides that can be mixed-and-matched to self-assemble into four different coiled coil heterodimers. The dissociation constant of the different heterodimers range from μM to < nM. Due to the large difference in affinities, the polypeptides are prone to thermodynamic social self-sorting. The JR-polypeptide system, on the other hand, consists of several 42-residue de novo designed helix-loop-helix polypeptides that can dimerize into four-helix bundles. In this work, primarily the glutamic acid-rich polypeptide JR2E has been explored as a component in supramolecular materials. Dimerization was induced by exposing the polypeptide to either Zn2+, acidic conditions or the complementary polypeptide JR2K.
By conjugating JR2E to hyaluronic acid and the EKIV-polypeptides to star-shaped poly(ethylene glycol), respectively, highly tunable hydrogels that can be self-assembled in a modular fashion have been created. In addition, self-assembly of spherical superstructures has been investigated and were obtained by linking two thiol-modified JR2E polypeptides via a disulfide bridge in the loop region. The thesis also demonstrates that the polypeptides and the polypeptide-hybrids can be used for encapsulation and release of molecules and nanoparticles. In addition, some of the hydrogels have been explored for 3D cell culture. By using supramolecular interactions combined with bio-orthogonal covalent crosslinking reactions, hydrogels were obtained that enabled facile encapsulation of cells that retained high viability.
The results of the work presented in this thesis show that dimerizing α–helical polypeptides can be used to create modular biomaterials with properties that can be tuned by specific molecular interactions. The modularity and the tunable properties of these smart biomaterials are conceptually very interesting andmake them useful in many emerging biomedical applications, such as 3D cell culture, cell therapy, and drug delivery