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Nat Chem. 2013 Oct;5(10):868-75. doi: 10.1038/nchem.1745. Epub 2013 Sep 1.

Site-specific positioning of dendritic alkyl chains on DNA cages enables their geometry-dependent self-assembly.

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Department of Chemistry and Centre for Self-assembled Chemical Structures, McGill University, 801 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, QC H3A2K6, Canada.


Nature uses a combination of non-covalent interactions to create a hierarchy of complex systems from simple building blocks. One example is the selective association of the hydrophobic side chains that are a strong determinant of protein organization. Here, we report a parallel mode of assembly in DNA nanotechnology. Dendritic alkyl-DNA conjugates are hybridized to the edges of a DNA cube. When four amphiphiles are on one face, the hydrophobic residues of two neighbouring cubes engage in an intermolecular 'handshake', resulting in a dimer. When there are eight amphiphiles (four on the top and bottom cube faces, respectively), they engage in an intramolecular 'handshake' inside the cube. This forms the first example of a monodisperse micelle within a DNA nanostructure that encapsulates small molecules and releases them by DNA recognition. Creating a three-dimensional pattern of hydrophobic patches, like side chains in proteins, can result in specific, directed association of hydrophobic domains with orthogonal interactions to DNA base-pairing.

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