Artificial cells with viscoadaptive behavior based on hydrogel-loaded giant unilamellar vesicles

Antoni Llopis-Lorente, Maaike J. G. Schotman, Heorhii V. Humeniuk, Jan C. M. van Hest, Patricia Y. W. Dankers, Loai K. E. A. Abdelmohsen

Published: 2023

Viscoadaptation is an essential process in natural cells, where supramolecular interactions between cytosolic components drive adaptation of the cellular mechanical features to regulate metabolic function. This important relationship between mechanical properties and function has until now been underexplored in artificial cell research. Here, we have created an artificial cell platform that exploits internal supramolecular interactions to display viscoadaptive behavior. As supramolecular material to mimic the cytosolic component of these artificial cells, we employed a pH-switchable hydrogelator based on poly(ethylene glycol) coupled to ureido-pyrimidinone units. The hydrogelator was membranized in its sol state in giant unilamellar lipid vesicles to include a cell-membrane mimetic component. The resulting hydrogelator-loaded giant unilamellar vesicles (designated as HL-GUVs) displayed reversible pH-switchable sol–gel behavior through multiple cycles. Furthermore, incorporation of the regulatory enzyme urease enabled us to increase the cytosolic pH upon conversion of its substrate urea. The system was able to switch between a high viscosity (at neutral pH) and a low viscosity (at basic pH) state upon addition of substrate. Finally, viscoadaptation was achieved via the incorporation of a second enzyme of which the activity was governed by the viscosity of the artificial cell. This work represents a new approach to install functional self-regulation in artificial cells, and opens new possibilities for the creation of complex artificial cells that mimic the structural and functional interplay found in biological systems.

Full Access Link: Chemical Science