TITLE: Organization and Structure of Branched Amphipathic Oligopeptide Bilayers

Authors: Zhiguang Jia, Susan K. Whitaker, John M. Tomich, Jianhan Chen

A class of self-assembling branched amphiphilic peptide capsules (BAPCs) was recently developed that could serve as a new drug delivery vehicle. BAPCs can encapsulate solutes up to ∼12 kDa during assembly, are unusually stable, and are readily taken up by cells with low cytotoxicity. Coarse-grained simulations have supported that BAPCs are defined by bilayers that resemble those formed by diacyl phospholipids. Here, atomistic simulations were performed to characterize the structure and organization of bilayers formed by three branched amphiphilic peptides (BAPs): bis(AcFLIVIGSII)-K-K4-CO-NH2, bis(Ac-CHA-LIVIGSII)-K-K4-CO-NH2, and bis(Ac-FLIVI)-K-K4-CO-NH2. The results show BAPs form a network of intra- and intermolecular backbone hydrogen bonds within the same leaflet in addition to hydrophobic side-chain interactions. The terminal residues of two leaflets form an interdigitation region locking two leaflets together. The phenyl groups in bis(Ac-FLIVIGSII)-K-K4-CO-NH2 and bis(Ac-FLIVI)-K-K4-CO-NH2 are tightly packed near the bilayer center but do not formed ordered structures with specific π−π stacking. Replacing phenyl groups with the cyclohexane side chain only slightly increases the level of disorder in bilayer structures and thus should not significantly affect the stability, consistent with experimental results on bis(Ac-CHA-LIVIGSII)-K-K4-CO-NH2 BAPCs. Self-assembly simulations further suggest that leaflet interdigitation likely occurs at early stages of BAPC formation. Atomistic simulations also reveal that the BAPC bilayers are highly permeable to water. This prediction was validated using fluorescence measurements of encapsulated self-quenching dye upon transferring BAPCs to buffers with different salt concentrations. Improved understanding of the organization and structure of BAPC bilayers at the atomic level will provide a basis for future rational modifications of BAP sequence to improve BAPC properties as a new class of delivery vehicle.