Elucidating Sequence-Assembly Relationships for Bilingual PNA Biopolymers

Hector Argueta-Gonzalez, Colin S. Swenson, Kornelia J. Skowron, Jennifer M. Heemstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nucleic acids and proteins possess encoded “languages” that can be used for information storage or to direct function. However, each biopolymer is limited to encoding its respective “language.” Using a peptide nucleic acid (PNA) scaffold, nucleobase and amino acid residues can be installed on a singular backbone, enabling a single biopolymer to encode both languages. Our laboratory previously reported the development of a “bilingual” PNA biopolymer that incorporates a sequence-specific nucleic acid code interspersed with hydrophobic (alanine) and hydrophilic (lysine) amino acid residues at defined positions to produce amphiphilic character. We observed the amphiphilic amino acid residues directing the biopolymer to undergo self-assembly into micelle-like structures, while the nucleic acid recognition was harnessed for disassembly. Herein, we report a series of bilingual PNA sequences having amino acid residues with varying lengths, functional group charges, hydrophobicities, and spacings to elucidate the effect of these parameters on micelle assembly and nucleic acid recognition. Negative charges in the hydrophilic block or increased bulkiness of the hydrophobic side chains led to assembly into similarly sized micelles; however, the negative charge additionally led to increased critical micelle concentration. Upon PNA sequence truncation to decrease the spacing between side chains, the biopolymers remained capable of self-assembling but formed smaller structures. Characterization of disassembly revealed that each variant retained sequence recognition capabilities and stimuli-responsive disassembly. Together, these data show that the amino acid and nucleic acid sequences of amphiphilic bilingual biopolymers can be customized to finely tune the assembly and disassembly properties, which has implications for applications such as the encapsulation and delivery of cargo for therapeutics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37442-37450
Number of pages9
JournalACS Omega
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 10 2023


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