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A self-assembly pathway to aligned monodomain gels


Aggregates of charged amphiphilic molecules have been found to access a structure at elevated temperature that templates alignment of supramolecular fibrils over macroscopic scales. The thermal pathway leads to a lamellar plaque structure with fibrous texture that breaks on cooling into large arrays of aligned nanoscale fibres and forms a strongly birefringent liquid. By manually dragging this liquid crystal from a pipette onto salty media, it is possible to extend this alignment over centimetres in noodle-shaped viscoelastic strings. Using this approach, the solution of supramolecular filaments can be mixed with cells at physiological temperatures to form monodomain gels of aligned cells and filaments. The nature of the self-assembly process and its biocompatibility would allow formation of cellular wires in situ that have any length and customized peptide compositions for use in biological applications.

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Figure 1: Strings and gels with long-range internal alignment.
Figure 2: SEM evidence of massive alignment versus isotropy of nanofibre bundles.
Figure 3: Morphological changes resulting from thermal treatment.
Figure 4: Cell alignment in strings of aligned filaments.


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This work was supported by the US Department of Energy-Basic Energy Sciences (DE-FG02-00ER45810, DE-FG02-08ER46539), National Institutes of Health (5-R01-EB003806, 5-R01-DE015920, 5-P50-NS054287), National Science Foundation (DMR-0605427), Department of Homeland Security Fellowship (M.A.G.), Non-Equilibrium Energy Research Center (NERC), an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by DOE-BES (award number DE-SC0000989 for L.C.P), Northwestern University’s NIH Biotechnology Training Program (pre-doctoral fellowship to J.R.M.), Ben Gurion University of Negev, Israel (post-doctoral fellowship for R.B.) and Generalitat de Catalunya (visiting scholar sponsorship for C.A.). Experiments made use of the following facilities at Northwestern University: J. B. Cohen X-ray Diffraction Facility, IMSERC, EPIC Facilities of the NUANCE Center, Keck Biophysics Facility, Biological Imaging Facility and the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine and its Cleanroom Core Facility. The NUANCE Center is supported by the NSF-NSEC, NSF-MRSEC, Keck Foundation, the State of Illinois and Northwestern University. We acknowledge facilities support by the Materials Research Center through NSF-MRSEC grant DMR-0520513. X-ray measurements were carried out at the DuPont–Northwestern–Dow Collaborative Access Team (DND-CAT) Synchrotron Research Center located at Sector 5 of the Advanced Photon Source. DND-CAT is supported by the E. I. DuPont de Nemours, The Dow Chemical Company, the US National Science Foundation through Grant DMR-9304725 and the State of Illinois through the Department of Commerce and the Board of Higher Education Grant IBHE HECA NWU 96. Use of the Advanced Photon Source was supported by the US Department of Energy–Office of Basic Energy Sciences under Contract No. W-31-109-Eng-38 and DE-AC02-06CH11357. Use of the BioCARS Sector 14 was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Center for Research Resources, under grant number RR007707. We also thank G. Darnell and S. Weigand for X-ray assistance and W. Claycomb for the generous gift of the HL-1 cells.

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S.Z., M.A.G., A.M., L.C.P., R.B., C.A. and J.R.M. carried out experiments. M.A.G. and M.O.d.l.C. generated numerical data. M.A.G., M.O.d.l.C. and S.I.S developed a theoretical model. S.Z., M.A.G., L.C.P., R.B., J.R.M., M.O.d.l.C. and S.I.S. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Megan A. Greenfield or Samuel I. Stupp.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Zhang, S., Greenfield, M., Mata, A. et al. A self-assembly pathway to aligned monodomain gels. Nature Mater 9, 594–601 (2010).

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