Reversible self-assembly of superstructured networks

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Science  16 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6416, pp. 808-813
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat6141

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Chemically reversible hydrogels

The dynamic reorganization of some cellular biopolymers in response to signals has inspired efforts to create artificial materials with similar properties. Freeman et al. created hydrogels based on peptide amphiphiles that can bear DNA strands that assemble into superstructures and that disassemble in response to chemical triggers. The addition of DNA conjugates induced transitions from micelles to fibers and bundles of fibers. The resulting hydrogels were used as an extracellular matrix mimic for cultured cells. Switching the hydrogel between states also switched astrocytes between their reactive and naïve phenotypes.

Science, this issue p. 808


Soft structures in nature, such as protein assemblies, can organize reversibly into functional and often hierarchical architectures through noncovalent interactions. Molecularly encoding this dynamic capability in synthetic materials has remained an elusive goal. We report on hydrogels of peptide-DNA conjugates and peptides that organize into superstructures of intertwined filaments that disassemble upon the addition of molecules or changes in charge density. Experiments and simulations demonstrate that this response requires large-scale spatial redistribution of molecules directed by strong noncovalent interactions among them. Simulations also suggest that the chemically reversible structures can only occur within a limited range of supramolecular cohesive energies. Storage moduli of the hydrogels change reversibly as superstructures form and disappear, as does the phenotype of neural cells in contact with these materials.

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