Self-sorting in supramolecular assemblies

Charlotte H. Chen, Liam C. Palmer, Samuel I. Stupp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Supramolecular self-assembly enables living organisms to form highly functional hierarchical structures with individual components self-organized across multiple length scales. This has inspired work on multicomponent supramolecular materials to understand factors behind co-assemblyversusself-sorting of molecules. We report here on a supramolecular system comprised of negatively charged peptide amphiphile (PA) molecules, in which only a tiny fraction of the molecules (0.7 mol%) were covalently conjugated to one of two different fluorophores, half to fluorescein isothiocyanate (FTIC) and the other half to tetramethylrhodamine (TAMRA). Confocal microscopy of the system revealed self-sorting of the two different fluorescent PA molecules, where TAMRA PA is concentrated in micron-scale domains while FITC PA remains dispersed throughout the sample. From Förster resonance energy transfer and fluorescence recovery experiments, we conclude that conjugation of the negatively charged FITC to PA significantly disrupts its co-assembly with the 99.3 mol% of unlabeled molecules, which are responsible for formation of micron-scale domains. Conversely, conjugation of the zwitterionic TAMRA causes no such disruption. Interestingly, this dissimilar behavior between FITC and TAMRA PA causes them to self-sort at large length scales in the supramolecular system, mediated not by specific interactions among the individual fluorophores but instead by their different propensities to co-assemble with the majority component. We also found that greater ionic strength in the aqueous environment of the system promotes mixing by lowering the electrostatic barriers involved in self-sorting. Our results demonstrate great thermodynamic subtlety in the driving forces that mediate self-sortingversusco-assembly in supramolecular peptide assemblies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3902-3912
Number of pages11
JournalSoft Matter
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 14 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Chemistry(all)


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