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Polymorphism in Self-Assembly of Peptide-Based β‑Hairpin Contributes to Network Morphology and Hydrogel Mechanical Rigidity

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posted on 29.12.2015 by Yifat Miller, Buyong Ma, Ruth Nussinov
Hydrogels are proving to be an excellent class of materials for biomedical applications. The molecular self-assembly of designed MAX1 β-hairpin peptides into fibrillar networks has emerged as a novel route to form responsive hydrogels. Herein, computational modeling techniques are used to investigate the relative arrangements of individual hairpins within the fibrils that constitute the gel. The modeling provides insight into the morphology of the fibril network, which defines the gel’s mechanical properties. Our study suggests polymorphic arrangements of the hairpins within the fibrils; however, the relative populations and the relative conformational energies of the polymorphic arrangements show a preference toward an arrangement of hairpins where their turn regions are not capable of forming intermolecular interaction. Repulsive intramolecular electrostatic interactions appear to dictate the formation of fibrils with shorter, rather than longer, persistent lengths. These repulsive intramolecular interactions also disfavor the formation of fibril entanglements. Taken together, the modeling predicts that MAX1 forms a network containing a large number of branch points, a network morphology supported by the formation of short fibril segments. We posit that, under static conditions, the preferred branched structures of the MAX1 peptide assembly result in a cross-linked hydrogel organization. At the same time, the shear stress leads to short fibrillar structures, thus fluidic hydrogel states.