Peptide Sequence Determines Structural Sensitivity to Supramolecular Polymerization Pathways and Bioactivity

Shelby C. Yuan, Jacob A. Lewis, Hiroaki Sai, Steven J. Weigand, Liam C. Palmer, Samuel I. Stupp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Pathways in supramolecular polymerization traverse different regions of the system's energy landscape, affecting not only their architectures and internal structure but also their functions. We report here on the effects of pathway selection on polymerization for two isomeric peptide amphiphile monomers with amino acid sequences AAEE and AEAE. We subjected the monomers to five different pathways that varied in the order they were exposed to electrostatic screening by electrolytes and thermal annealing. We found that introducing electrostatic screening of E residues before annealing led to crystalline packing of AAEE monomers. Electrostatic screening decreased intermolecular repulsion among AAEE monomers thus promoting internal order within the supramolecular polymers, while subsequent annealing brought them closer to thermodynamic equilibrium with enhanced β-sheet secondary structure. In contrast, supramolecular polymerization of AEAE monomers was less pathway dependent, which we attribute to side-chain dimerization. Regardless of the pathway, the internal structure of AEAE nanostructures had limited internal order and moderate β-sheet structure. These supramolecular polymers generated hydrogels with lower porosity and greater bulk mechanical strength than those formed by the more cohesive AAEE polymers. The combination of dynamic, less ordered internal structure and bulk strength of AEAE networks promoted strong cell-material interactions in adherent epithelial-like cells, evidenced by increased cytoskeletal remodeling and cell spreading. The highly ordered AAEE nanostructures formed porous hydrogels with inferior bulk mechanical properties and weaker cell-material interactions. We conclude that pathway sensitivity in supramolecular synthesis, and therefore structure and function, is highly dependent on the nature of dominant interactions driving polymerization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16512-16523
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number36
StatePublished - Sep 14 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Catalysis
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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