Solution behavior of peptide and peptide-hybrid materials

Peptide based and peptide hybrid materials represent two interesting and challenging classes of biomaterials. Both classes consist of and contain, respectively, one or more polypeptide blocks, endowing the resulting polymers with enhanced self-assembly properties, biocompatibility or novel characteristics. Peptide based materials, solely comprised of amino acids, benefit from their advanced self-assembly properties. In the case of peptide hybrid materials, being conjugates of peptides and synthetic polymers, either the polypeptide or the synthetic polymer block can drive the self-assembly process. Furthermore, the latter class benefits from combining the advantages of peptides and synthetic polymers, thus overcoming limitations related to the use of the individual components. The application of these materials is still challenging because it is not possible to predict their final self-assembly behavior based on their design. In order to facilitate a target-oriented design of novel materials for application such as drug delivery, tissue engineering, or self-healing materials, a detailed understanding of the complex interactions within and between these molecules is essential. The work presented in this thesis addresses these fundamental questions. Over the last decades, a plethora of peptide and peptide hybrid materials has been reported. Chapter 1 gives an overview of selected articles describing different synthesis routes for peptide as well as peptide hybrid materials, showing examples of molecules and their self-assembly into superstructures, and highlighting recent applications. Chapter 2 describes the synthesis and characterization of different peptide hybrid diblock oligomers composed of two classes of peptide sequences covalently attached to a poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) block. The first class of peptide sequences contains the intrinsic propensity to form coiled coils, whereas the second class is composed of "switch" peptides and is able to adopt both amphiphilic α-helical and β-strand conformations. Upon dissolution, the first class yielded superstructures comprised of dimeric and tetrameric coiled coil aggregates, whereas the second class formed fibrillar assemblies. In both cases, the self-assembly properties were driven by the peptide block, and the final superstructure consisted of a peptidic core wrapped by the synthetic polymer block. Chapter 3 presents a detailed study on the aqueous solution self-assembly of two poly(styrene)n-b-poly(L-lysine)m peptide hybrid oligomers. The aim was to clarify whether the observed rod-like micelles, obtained by direct dissolution of the diblock oligomers in aqueous solution, reflect intrinsic self-assembly properties of the hybrid diblock oligomers or whether they present structures that are energetically trapped due to the glassy nature of the polystyrene block. To address this question, the influence of a variety of sample preparation techniques, including the use of organic solvents, dialysis from an organic solvent and several thermal treatments, was investigated. All treatments resulted in solution aggregates that differed in size and shape from samples prepared by direct dissolution in aqueous solution. Thus, it seems likely that direct dissolution of polystyrene-b-poly(L-lysine) diblock oligomers in aqueous solution results in kinetically trapped, rod-like aggregates, which can be transformed into non-spherical micelles by the appropriate treatment. Chapter 4 contains a comprehensive study on peptide-based materials, investigating four different series of short elastin-like peptides (ELPs) based on the GVGVP motif. The objective was to test whether and how defined changes in the primary structure of short ELPs affect the secondary structure and the lower critical solution temperature (LCST) behavior. Therefore, the number of repeats was altered, and within one peptide of constant length, all valines were successively substituted by the more hydrophobic amino acids isoleucine, leucine and phenylalanine, respectively. In parallel, a theoretical approach based on the partition coefficient log P was used to predict the shift of the LCST as function of chain length and composition. For short ELPs, the LCST is strongly affected by changes in the primary structure. This has also been predicted by calculating log P. An increase in the hydrophobicity resulted in a shift of the LCST towards lower temperatures. Furthermore, it was shown for the first time that the sensitivity of short ELPs towards external factors, such as salt concentration, is determined by the intrinsic propensity of the incorporated amino acids to form either α-helices or β-strands. In summary, the obtained results on peptide based and peptide-hybrid materials provides deeper insights into their self-assembly characteristics and highlights the potential of these materials to be used for technical and medical applications.


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