Effect of C-terminal modification on the self-assembly and hydrogelation of fluorinated Fmoc-Phe derivatives

Derek M. Ryan, Todd M. Doran, Samuel B. Anderson, Bradley L. Nilsson

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93 Scopus citations


The development of hydrogels resulting from the self-assembly of low molecular weight (LMW) hydrogelators is a rapidly expanding area of study. Fluorenylmethoxycarbonyl (Fmoc) protected aromatic amino acids derived from phenylalanine (Phe) have been shown to be highly effective LMW hydrogelators. It has been found that side chain functionalization of Fmoc-Phe exerts a significant effect on the self-assembly and hydrogelation behavior of these molecules; fluorinated derivatives, including pentafluorophenylalanine (F 5-Phe) and 3-F-phenylalanine (3-F-Phe), spontaneously self-assemble into fibrils that form a hydrogel network upon dissolution into water. In this study, Fmoc-F 5-Phe-OH and Fmoc-3-F-Phe-OH were used to characterize the role of the C-terminal carboxylic acid on the self-assembly and hydrogelation of these derivatives. The C-terminal carboxylic acid moieties of Fmoc-F 5-Phe-OH and Fmoc-3-F-Phe-OH were converted to C-terminal amide and methyl ester groups in order to perturb the hydrophobicity and hydrogen bond capacity of the C-terminus. Self-assembly and hydrogelation of these derivatives was investigated in comparison to the parent carboxylic acid compounds at neutral and acidic pH. It was found that hydrogelation of the C-terminal acids was highly sensitive to solvent pH, which influences the charge state of the terminal group. Rigid hydrogels form at pH 3.5, but at pH 7 hydrogel rigidity is dramatically weakened. C-terminal esters self-assembled into fibrils only slowly and failed to form hydrogels due to the higher hydrophobicity of these derivatives. C-terminal amide derivatives assembled much more rapidly than the parent carboxylic acids at both acidic and neutral pH, but the resultant hydrogels were unstable to shear stress as a function of the lower water solubility of the amide functionality. Co-assembly of acid and amide functionalized monomers was also explored in order to characterize the properties of hybrid hydrogels; these gels were rigid in unbuffered water but significantly weaker in phosphate buffered saline. These results highlight the complex nature of monomer/solvent interactions and their ultimate influence on self-assembly and hydrogelation, and provide insight that will facilitate the development of optimal amino acid LMW hydrogelators for gelation of complex buffered media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4029-4039
Number of pages11
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 5 2011

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