From natural to bioassisted and biomimetic artificial water channel systems

Acc Chem Res. 2013 Dec 17;46(12):2814-23. doi: 10.1021/ar400025e. Epub 2013 Apr 8.


Within biological systems, natural channels and pores transport metabolites across the cell membranes. Researchers have explored artificial ion-channel architectures as potential mimics of natural ionic conduction. All these synthetic systems have produced an impressive collection of alternative artificial ion-channels. Amazingly, researchers have made far less progress in the area of synthetic water channels. The development of synthetic biomimetic water channels and pores could contribute to a better understanding of the natural function of protein channels and could offer new strategies to generate highly selective, advanced water purification systems. Despite the imaginative work by synthetic chemists to produce sophisticated architectures that confine water clusters, most synthetic water channels have used natural proteins channels as the selectivity components, embedded in the diverse arrays of bioassisted artificial systems. These systems combine natural proteins that present high water conductance states under natural conditions with artificial lipidic or polymeric matrixes. Experimental results have demonstrated that natural biomolecules can be used as bioassisted building blocks for the construction of highly selective water transport through artificial membranes. A next step to further the potential of these systems was the design and construction of simpler compounds that maintain the high conduction activity obtained with natural compounds leading to fully synthetic artificial biomimetic systems. Such studies aim to use constitutional selective artificial superstructures for water/proton transport to select functions similar to the natural structures. Moving to simpler water channel systems offers a chance to better understand mechanistic and structural behaviors and to uncover novel interactive water-channels that might parallel those in biomolecular systems. This Account discusses the incipient development of the first artificial water channels systems. We include only systems that integrate synthetic elements in their water selective translocation unit. Therefore, we exclude peptide channels because their sequences derive from the proteins in natural channels. We review many of the natural systems involved in water and related proton transport processes. We describe how these systems can fit within our primary goal of maintaining natural function within bioassisted artificial systems. In the last part of the Account, we present several inspiring breakthroughs from the last decade in the field of biomimetic artificial water channels. Researchers have synthesized and tested hydrophobic, hydrophilic and hybrid nanotubular systems. All these examples demonstrate how the novel interactive water-channels can parallel biomolecular systems. At the same time these simpler artificial water channels offer a means of understanding the molecular-scale hydrodynamics of water for many biological scenarios.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomimetics*
  • Calixarenes
  • Ion Channels*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Proteins / chemistry*
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / chemistry
  • Water / chemistry*
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Ion Channels
  • Proteins
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • pillar(5)arene
  • Water
  • Calixarenes