Self-Assembly of Silk-Collagen-Like Triblock Copolymers Resembles a Supramolecular Living Polymerization

Beun, L.H.; Beaudoux, X.J.; Kleijn, J.M.; Wolf, F.A. de; Cohen Stuart, M.A.


We produced several pH-responsive silk-collagen-like triblocks, one acidic and two alkaline. At pH values where the silk-like block is uncharged the triblocks self-assemble into filaments. The pH-induced self-assembly was examined by atomic force microscopy, light scattering, and circular dichroism. The populations of filaments were found to be very monodisperse, indicating that the filaments start to grow from already present nuclei in the sample. The growth then follows pseudo-first-order kinetics for all examined triblocks. When normalized to the initial concentration, the growth curves of each type of triblock overlap, showing that the self-assembly is a generic process for silk-collagen-silk triblocks, regardless of the nature of their chargeable groups. The elongation speed of the filaments is slow, due to the presence of repulsive collagen-like blocks and the limited number of possibilities for an approaching triblock to successfully attach to a growing end. The formation of filaments is fully reversible. Already present filaments can start growing again by addition of new triblocks. The structure of all filaments is very rich in ß-turns, leading to ß-rolls. The triblocks attain this structure only when attaching to a growing filament.