Abstract

Amyloids are self-assembled protein structures implicated in a host of neurodegenerative diseases. Organisms can also produce “functional amyloids” to perpetuate life, and these materials serve as models for robust biomaterials. Amyloids are typically studied using fluorescent dyes, Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR), or Raman spectroscopy analysis of the protein amide I region, and X-ray diffraction (XRD) because the self-assembled β-sheet secondary structure of the amyloid can be easily identified with these techniques. Here, FT-IR and Raman spectroscopy analyses are described to characterize amyloid structures beyond just identification of the β-sheet structure. It has been shown that peptide mixtures can self-assemble into nanometer-sized amyloid structures that then continue to self-assemble to the micrometer scale. The resulting structures are flat tapes of low rigidity or cylinders of high rigidity depending on the peptides in the mixture. By monitoring the aggregation of peptides in solution using FT-IR spectroscopy, it is possible to identify specific amino acids implicated in β-sheet formation and higher order self-assembly. It is also possible to predict the final tape or cylinder morphology and gain insight into the structure's physical properties based on observed intermolecular interactions during the self-assembly process. Tapes and cylinders are shown to both have a similar core self-assembled β-sheet structure. Soft tapes also have weak hydrophobic interactions between alanine, isoleucine, leucine, and valine that facilitate self-assembly. Rigid cylinders have similar hydrophobic interactions that facilitate self-assembly and also have extensive hydrogen bonding between glutamines. Raman spectroscopy performed on the dried tapes and fibers shows the persistence of these interactions. The spectroscopic analyses described could be generalized to other self-assembling amyloid systems to explain property and morphological differences.

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