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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Oct 8;110(41):16309-14. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1316150110. Epub 2013 Sep 24.

Crystalline polymorphism induced by charge regulation in ionic membranes.

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Departments of Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry, Materials Science and Engineering, and Chemical and Biological Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208.


The crystallization of molecules with polar and hydrophobic groups, such as ionic amphiphiles and proteins, is of paramount importance in biology and biotechnology. By coassembling dilysine (+2) and carboxylate (-1) amphiphiles of various tail lengths into bilayer membranes at different pH values, we show that the 2D crystallization process in amphiphile membranes can be controlled by modifying the competition of long-range and short-range interactions among the polar and the hydrophobic groups. The pH and the hydrophobic tail length modify the intermolecular packing and the symmetry of their crystalline phase. For hydrophobic tail lengths of 14 carbons (C14), we observe the coassembly into crystalline bilayers with hexagonal molecular ordering via in situ small- and wide-angle X-ray scattering. As the tail length increases, the hexagonal lattice spacing decreases due to an increase in van der Waals interactions, as demonstrated by atomistic molecular dynamics simulations. For C16 and C18 we observe a reentrant crystalline phase transition sequence, hexagonal-rectangular-C-rectangular-P-rectangular-C-hexagonal, as the solution pH is increased from 3 to 10.5. The stability of the rectangular phases, which maximize tail packing, increases with increasing tail length. As a result, for very long tails (C22), the possibility of observing packing symmetries other than rectangular-C phases diminishes. Our work demonstrates that it is possible to systematically exchange chemical and mechanical energy by changing the solution pH value within a range of physiological conditions at room temperature in bilayers of molecules with ionizable groups.


amphiphilic membranes; hydrophobic interaction; self-assembly

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