Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Simpler Way of Making Proteins Could Lead to New Nanomedicine Agents

23.02.2011
Researchers have developed a simple method of making short protein chains with spiral structures that can also dissolve in water, two desirable traits not often found together. Such structures could have applications as building blocks for self-assembling nanostructures and as agents for drug and gene delivery.

Led by Jianjun Cheng, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois, the research team will publish its findings in the Jan. 22 edition of the journal Nature Communications.

Materials scientists have been interested in designing large polymer molecules that could be used as building blocks for self-assembling structures. The challenge has been that the molecules generally adopt a globular, spherical shape, limiting their ability to form orderly aggregates. However, polypeptides – chains of amino acids such as proteins – can form helical structures. Short polypeptide chains that adopt a spiral shape act like cylindrical rods.

“If you have two rigid rods, one positive and one negative, right next to each other, they’re going to stick to each other. If you have a way to put the charge on the surface then they can pack together in a close, compact way, so they form a three-dimensional structure,” Cheng said.

However, it is difficult to make helical polypeptides that are water-soluble so they can be used in solution. Polypeptides gain their solubility from side chains – molecular structures that stem from each amino acid link in the polypeptide chain. Amino acids with positive or negative charges in their side chains are needed to make a polypeptide disperse in water.

The problem arises when chains with charged side chains form helical structures. The charges cause a strong repulsion between the side chains, which destabilizes the helical conformation. This causes water-soluble polypeptides to form random coil structures instead of the desired helices.

In exploring solutions to the riddle of helical, water-soluble polypeptides, researchers have tried several complicated methods. For example, scientists have attempted grafting highly water-soluble chemicals to the side chains to increase the polypeptides’ overall solubility, or creating helices with charges only on one side.

“You can achieve the helical structure and the solubility but you have to design the helical structure in a very special way. The peptide design needs a very specific sequence. Then you’re very limited in the type of polypeptide you can build, and it’s not easy to design or handle these polypeptides,” Cheng said.

In contrast, Cheng’s group developed a very straightforward solution. Since the close proximity of the charges causes the repulsion that disrupts the helix, the researchers simply elongated the side chains, moving the charges farther from the backbone and giving them more freedom to keep their distance from one another.

The researchers observed that as they increased the length of the side chains with charges on the end, the polypeptides’ propensity for forming helices also increased.

“It’s such a simple idea – move the charge away from the backbone,” Cheng said. “It’s not difficult at all to make the longer side chains, and it has amazing properties for winding up helical structures simply by pushing the distance between the charge and the backbone.”

The group found that not only do polypeptides with long side chains form helices, they display remarkable stability even when compared to non-charged helices. The helices seem immune to temperature, pH, and other denaturing agents that would unwind most polypeptides.

This may explain why amino acids with large hydrophobic side chains are not found in nature. Such immutability would preclude dynamic winding and unwinding of protein structures, which is essential to many biological processes. However, rigid stability is a desirable trait for the types of applications Cheng’s group explores: nanostructures for drug and gene delivery, particularly targeting cancerous tumors and stem cells.

“We want to test the correlation of the lengths of the helices and the circulation in the body to see what’s the impact of the shape and the charge and the side chains for clearance in the body,” Cheng said. “Recent studies show that the aspect ratio of the nanostructures – spherical structures versus tubes – has a huge impact on their penetration of tumor tissues and circulation half-lives in the body.”

Cheng plans to create a library of short helical polypeptides of varying backbone lengths, side chain lengths and types of charge. He hopes to simplify the chemistry even further and make the materials widely accessible. His lab already has demonstrated that helical structures can be effective gene delivery and membrane transduction agents, and building the library of soluble helical molecules will allow further investigation of tailoring such nanostructures for specific biomedical applications.

The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health supported this work. Illinois co-authors were graduate students Hua Lu and Yugang Bai and undergraduate student Jason Lang. “Hua Lu, a fifth year graduate student in my group, is the first author of the publication and made the most significant contribution to this work,” Cheng said. Yao Lin and Jin Wang, of the University of Connecticut, and professor Shiyong Liu, of the University of Science and Technology of China, also collaborated with Cheng’s group on the paper.

Liz Ahlberg | University of Illinois
Further information:
http://www.illinois.edu

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen
24.03.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science

nachricht Researchers make flexible glass for tiny medical devices
24.03.2017 | Brigham Young University

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Argon is not the 'dope' for metallic hydrogen

24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences

Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core

24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>