Supramolecular Double Helices from Small C3-Symmetrical Molecules Aggregated in Water

René P. M. Lafleur, Svenja Herziger, Sandra M. C. Schoenmakers, Arthur D. A. Keizer, Jahaziel Jahzerah, Bala N. S. Thota, Lu Su, Paul H. H. Bomans, Nico A. J. M. Sommerdijk, Anja R. A. Palmans, Rainer Haag, Heiner Friedrich, Christoph Böttcher, and E. W. Meijer

Published: 14 October 2020


Supramolecular fibers in water, micrometers long and several nanometers in width, are among the most studied nanostructures for biomedical applications. These supramolecular polymers are formed through a spontaneous self-assembly process of small amphiphilic molecules by specific secondary interactions. Although many compounds do not possess a stereocenter, recent studies suggest the (co)existence of helical structures, albeit in racemic form. Here, we disclose a series of supramolecular (co)polymers based on water-soluble benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamides (BTAs) that form double helices, fibers that were long thought to be chains of single molecules stacked in one dimension (1D). Detailed cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM) studies and subsequent three-dimensional-volume reconstructions unveiled helical repeats, ranging from 15 to 30 nm. Most remarkable, the pitch can be tuned through the composition of the copolymers, where two different monomers with the same core but different peripheries are mixed in various ratios. Like in lipid bilayers, the hydrophobic shielding in the aggregates of these disc-shaped molecules is proposed to be best obtained by dimer formation, promoting supramolecular double helices. It is anticipated that many of the supramolecular polymers in water will have a thermodynamic stable structure, such as a double helix, although small structural changes can yield single stacks as well. Hence, it is essential to perform detailed analyses prior to sketching a molecular picture of these 1D fibers.

Full Access Link: Journal of the American Chemical Society