Length-dependent formation of transmembrane pores by 3-10 helical Aib foldamers

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  • External authors:
  • J. Jones
  • V. Diemer
  • C. Adam
  • J. Raftery
  • R. Ruscoe
  • J. Sengel
  • M. Wallace
  • A. Bader
  • S. Cockroft
  • J. Clayden


The synthetic biology toolbox lacks extendable, conformationally controllable yet easy-to-synthesize building blocks that are long enough to span membranes. To meet this need, an iterative synthesis of α-aminoisobutyric acid (Aib) oligomers was used to create a library of homologous rigid-rod 310-helical foldamers, which have incrementally increasing lengths and functionalizable N- and C-termini. This library was used to probe the interrelationship of foldamer length, self-association strength and ionophoric ability, which is poorly understood. Although foldamer self-association in non-polar chloroform increased with length, with a ~14-fold increase in dimerization constant from Aib6 to Aib11, ionophoric activity in bilayers showed a stronger length dependence, with the observed rate constant for Aib11 ~70-fold greater than that of Aib6. The strongest ionophoric activity was observed for foldamers with >10 Aib residues, which have end-to-end distances greater than the hydrophobic width of the bilayers used (~2.8 nm); X-ray crystallography showed that Aib11 is 2.93 nm long. These studies suggest that being long enough to span to the membrane is more important for good ionophoric activity than strong self-association in the bilayer. Planar bilayer conductance measurements showed that Aib11 and Aib13, but not Aib7, could form pores. This pore-forming behavior is strong evidence that Aibm (m ≥ 10) building blocks can span bilayers.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Chemical Society. Journal
StatePublished - 8 Jan 2016