Complex coacervates are a versatile platform to mimic the structure of living cells. In both living systems and artificial cells, a macromolecularly crowded condensate phase has been shown to be able to modulate enzyme activity. Yet, how enzyme activity is affected by interactions (particularly with cationic charges) inside coacervates is not well studied. Here, we synthesized a series of amino-functional polymers to investigate the effect of the type of amine and charge density on coacervate formation, stability, protein partitioning, and enzyme function. The polymers were prepared by RAFT polymerization using as monomers aminoethyl methacrylate (AEAM), 2-(dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate (DMAEMA), imidazolepropyl methacrylamide (IPMAm), and [2-(methacryloyloxy)ethyl] trimethylammonium chloride (TMAEMA). Membranized complex coacervate artificial cells were formed with these polycations and an anionic amylose derivative. Results show that polycations with reduced charge density result in higher protein mobility in the condensates and also higher enzyme activity. Insights described here could help guide the use of coacervate artificial cells in applications such as sensing, catalysis, and therapeutic formulations.
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