Link to Pubmed [PMID] – 20199027
J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2010 Mar;132(12):4230-41
Nanofabrication by molecular self-assembly involves the design of molecules and self-assembly strategies so that shape and chemical complementarities drive the units to organize spontaneously into the desired structures. The power of self-assembly makes it the ubiquitous strategy of living organized matter and provides a powerful tool to chemists. However, a challenging issue in the self-assembly of complex supramolecular structures is to understand how kinetically efficient pathways emerge from the multitude of possible transition states and routes. Unfortunately, very few systems provide an intelligible structure and formation mechanism on which new models can be developed. Here, we elucidate the molecular and supramolecular self-assembly mechanism of synthetic octapeptide into nanotubes in equilibrium conditions. Their complex hierarchical self-assembly has recently been described at the mesoscopic level, and we show now that this system uniquely exhibits three assembly stages and three intermediates: (i) a peptide dimer is evidenced by both analytical centrifugation and NMR translational diffusion experiments; (ii) an open ribbon and (iii) an unstable helical ribbon are both visualized by transmission electron microscopy and characterized by small angle X-ray scattering. Interestingly, the structural features of two stable intermediates are related to the final nanotube organization as they set, respectively, the nanotube wall thickness and the final wall curvature radius. We propose that a specific self-assembly pathway is selected by the existence of such preorganized and stable intermediates so that a unique final molecular organization is kinetically favored. Our findings suggests that the rational design of oligopeptides can encode both molecular- and macro-scale morphological characteristics of their higher-order assemblies, thus opening the way to ultrahigh resolution peptide scaffold engineering.