Inulin crystal initiation via a glucose-fructose cross-link of adjacent polymer chains: atomic force microscopy and static molecular modelling

Carbohydr Polym. 2015 Mar 6;117:964-972. doi: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2014.10.022. Epub 2014 Oct 23.


Semi-crystalline microparticles of inulin (MPI) have clinical utility as potent human vaccine adjuvants but their relevant surface structure and crystal assembly remain undefined. We show inulin crystal surfaces to resemble multi-layered, discoid radial spherulites resulting from very rapid formation of complex tertiary structures, implying directed crystal initiation. Physical and in silico molecular modelling of unit cells confirm steric feasibility of initiation by hydrogen-bonded cross-linking of terminal glucose to a fructose of another chain, mimicking bonding in sucrose crystals. A strong, chelate-like dual H-bond is proposed to compel the known antiparallel alignment of inulin chains. Such cross-linking would require one extra fructose per chain in the native inulin crystal, as observed. Completion of five H-bonded internal ring-domains would 'lock in' each new 6-fructose structural unit of each antiparallel helix pair to create a new isoform. All known properties of inulin isoforms follow readily from these concepts.

Keywords: Adjuvant; Fructose (PubChem CID: 5984); Glucose (PubChem CID: 5793); Glycerol (PubChem CID: 753); Inulin from chicory (PubChem CID: 16219508); Isoform; Model; Structure; Sucrose (PubChem CID: 5988); Vaccine; l-Xylose (PubChem CID: 95259).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carbohydrate Conformation
  • Fructose / chemistry*
  • Glucose / chemistry*
  • Inulin / chemistry*
  • Microscopy, Atomic Force*
  • Microspheres
  • Models, Molecular*


  • Fructose
  • Inulin
  • Glucose