Ion-Selective Controlled Assembly of Dendrimer-Based Functional Nanofibers and Their Ionic-Competitive Disassembly

The construction of hierarchical materials through controlled self-assembly of molecular building blocks (e.g., dendrimers) represents a unique opportunity to generate functional nanodevices in a convenient way. Transition-metal compounds are known to be able to interact with cationic dendrimers to generate diverse supramolecular structures, such as nanofibers, with interesting collective properties. In this work, molecular dynamics simulation (MD) demonstrates that acetate ions from dissociated Cd­(CH3COO)2 selectively generate cationic PPI-dendrimer functional fibers through hydrophobic modification of the dendrimer’s surface. The hydrophobic aggregation of dendrimers is triggered by the asymmetric nature of the acetate anions (AcO) rather than by the precise transition metal (Cd). The assembling directionality is also controlled by the concentration of AcO ions in solution. Atomic force (AFM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) prove these results. This well-defined directional assembly of cationic dendrimers is absent for different cadmium derivatives (i.e., CdCl2, CdSO4) with symmetric anions. Moreover, since the formation of these nanofibers is controlled exclusively by selected anions, fiber disassembly can be consequently triggered via simple ionic competition by NaCl salt. Ions are here reported as a simple and cost-effective tool to drive and control actively the assembly and the disassembly of such functional nanomaterials based on dendrimers.