Thermodynamic characterization of polypeptide complex coacervation

Dimitrios Priftis, Nicolas Laugel, Matthew Tirrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Scopus citations


The interactions between a series of oppositely charged polypeptide pairs are probed using isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) in combination with turbidity measurements and optical microscopy. Polypeptide complex coacervation is described as a sequence of two distinct binding steps using an empirical extension of a simple ITC binding model. The first step consists of the formation of soluble complexes from oppositely charged polypeptides (ion pairing), which in turn aggregate into insoluble interpolymer complexes in the second step (complex coacervation). Polypeptides have identical backbones and differ only in their charged side groups, making them attractive model systems for this work. The poly(l-ornithine hydrobromide) (PO)/poly(l-glutamic acid sodium salt) (PGlu) system is used to examine the effects of parameters such as the salt concentration, pH, temperature, degree of polymerization, and total polymer concentration on the thermodynamic characteristics of complexation. Complex coacervation in all probed systems is found to be endothermic, essentially an entropy-driven processes. Increasing the screening effect of the salt on the polyelectrolyte charges diminishes their propensity to interact, leading to a decrease in the observed energy change and coacervate quantity. The pH plays an important role in complex formation through its effect on the degree of ionization of the functional groups. Plotting the change in enthalpy with temperature allows the calculation of the heat capacity change (ΔC p ) for the PO/PGlu interactions. Finally, ITC revealed that complex coacervation is promoted when higher total polymer concentrations or polypeptide chain lengths are used.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15947-15957
Number of pages11
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 13 2012
Externally publishedYes


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