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Interface Counterion Localization Induces a Switch between Tight and Loose Configurations of Knotted Weak Polyacid Rings despite Intermonomer Coulomb Repulsions

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journal contribution
posted on 26.03.2020 by Andrea Tagliabue, Lorella Izzo, Massimo Mella
Stochastic simulations have been used to investigate the conformational behavior of knotted weak polyacid rings as a function of pH. Different from the commonly expected ionization–repulsion–expansion scheme upon increasing pH, theoretical results suggest a nonmonotonic behavior of the gyration radius Rg2. Polyelectrolyte recontraction at high ionization is induced by the weakening of Coulomb repulsion due to counterions (CIs) localizing at the interphase between the polymer and solvent, and the more marked it appears, the more complex is the knot topology. Compared with strong polyelectrolytic species of identical ionization, weak polyacids present tighter knots due to their ability to localize neutral monomers inside the tangled part. Increasing the solvent Bjerrum length enhances CIs localization, lowering the pH at which polyacids start decreasing their average size. A similar effect is also obtained by increasing the amount of “localizable” cations by adding salts.