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Langmuir. 2013 Dec 10;29(49):15191-200. doi: 10.1021/la403457c. Epub 2013 Dec 2.

Imaging self-assembly dependent spatial distribution of small molecules in a cellular environment.

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Department of Chemistry, Brandeis University , 415 South Street, Waltham, Massachusetts 02454, United States.


Self-assembly of small molecules, as a more common phenomenon than one previously thought, can be either beneficial or detrimental to cells. Despite its profound biological implications, how the self-assembly of small molecules behave in a cellular environment is largely unknown and barely explored. This work studies four fluorescent molecules that consist of the same peptidic backbone (e.g., Phe-Phe-Lys) and enzyme trigger (e.g., a phosphotyrosine residue), but bear different fluorophores on the side chain of the lysine residue of the peptidic motif. These molecules, however, exhibit a different ability of self-assembly before and after enzymatic transformation (e.g., dephosphorylation). Fluorescent imaging reveals that self-assembly directly affects the distribution of these small molecules in a cellular environment. Moreover, cell viability tests suggest that the states and the locations of the molecular assemblies in the cellular environment control the phenotypes of the cells. For example, the molecular nanofibers of one of the small molecules apparently stabilize actin filaments and alleviate the insult of an F-actin toxin (e.g., latrunculin A). Combining fluorescent imaging and enzyme-instructed self-assembly of small peptidic molecules, this work demonstrates self-assembly as a key factor for dictating the spatial distribution of small molecules in a cellular environment. In addition, it illustrates a useful approach, based on enzyme-instructed self-assembly of small molecules, to modulate spatiotemporal profiles of small molecules in a cellular environment, which allows the use of the emergent properties of small molecules to control the fate of cells.

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