Efficient encapsulation of proteins with random copolymers

Trung Dac Nguyen, Baofu Qiao, Monica Olvera De La Cruz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Membraneless organelles are aggregates of disordered proteins that form spontaneously to promote specific cellular functions in vivo. The possibility of synthesizing membraneless organelles out of cells will therefore enable fabrication of protein-based materials with functions inherent to biological matter. Since random copolymers contain various compositions and sequences of solvophobic and solvophilic groups, they are expected to function in nonbiological media similarly to a set of disordered proteins in membraneless organelles. Interestingly, the internal environment of these organelles has been noted to behave more like an organic solvent than like water. Therefore, an adsorbed layer of random copolymers that mimics the function of disordered proteins could, in principle, protect and enhance the proteins’ enzymatic activity even in organic solvents, which are ideal when the products and/or the reactants have limited solubility in aqueous media. Here, we demonstrate via multiscale simulations that random copolymers efficiently incorporate proteins into different solvents with the potential to optimize their enzymatic activity. We investigate the key factors that govern the ability of random copolymers to encapsulate proteins, including the adsorption energy, copolymer average composition, and solvent selectivity. The adsorbed polymer chains have remarkably similar sequences, indicating that the proteins are able to select certain sequences that best reduce their exposure to the solvent. We also find that the protein surface coverage decreases when the fluctuation in the average distance between the protein adsorption sites increases. The results herein set the stage for computational design of random copolymers for stabilizing and delivering proteins across multiple media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6578-6583
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 26 2018


  • Coarse-grained molecular simulations
  • Protein stabilization
  • Protein surface pattern
  • Random copolymers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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