Self-assembly of multidomain peptides: balancing molecular frustration controls conformation and nanostructure

J Am Chem Soc. 2007 Oct 17;129(41):12468-72. doi: 10.1021/ja072536r. Epub 2007 Sep 26.


A series of nine, frustrated, multidomain peptides is described in which forces favoring self-assembly into a nanofiber versus those favoring disassembly could be easily modified. The peptides are organized into an ABA block motif in which the central B block is composed of alternating hydrophilic and hydrophobic amino acids (glutamine and leucine, respectively). This alternation allows the amino acid side chains to segregate on opposite sides of the peptide backbone when it is in a fully extended beta-sheet conformation. In water, packing between two such peptides stabilizes the extended conformation by satisfying the desire of the leucine side chains to exclude themselves from the aqueous environment. Once in this conformation intermolecular backbone hydrogen bonding can readily take place between additional peptides eventually growing into high aspect ratio fibers. B block assembly may continue infinitely or until monomeric peptides are depleted from solution which results in an insoluble precipitate. Block A consists of a variable number of positively charged lysine residues whose electrostatic repulsion at pH 7 works against the desire of the B block to assemble. Here we show that balancing the forces of block A against B allows the formation of controlled length, individually dispersed, and fully soluble nanofibers with a width of 6 +/- 1 nm and length of 120 +/- 30 nm. Analysis by infrared, circular dichroism, and vitreous ice cryo-transmission electron microscopy reveals that the relative sizes of blocks A and B dictate the peptide secondary structure which in turn controls the resulting nanostructure. The system described epitomizes the use of molecular frustration in the design of finite self-assembled structures. These materials, and ones based on their architecture, may find applications where nanostructured control over fiber architecture and chemical functionality is required.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Circular Dichroism
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nanostructures / chemistry*
  • Nanostructures / ultrastructure*
  • Peptides / chemistry*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Spectroscopy, Fourier Transform Infrared
  • Static Electricity


  • Peptides