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WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol
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Ordered and disordered proteins as nanomaterial building blocks

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Abstract Proteins possess a number of attractive properties that have contributed to their recent emergence as nanoscale building blocks for biomaterials and bioinspired materials. For instance, the amino acid sequence of a protein can be precisely controlled and manipulated via recombinant DNA technology, and proteins can be biosynthesized with very high purity and virtually perfect monodispersity. Most importantly, protein‐based biomaterials offer the possibility of technologically harnessing the vast array of functions that these biopolymers serve in nature. In this review, we discuss recent progress in the field of protein‐based biomaterials, with an overall theme of relating protein structure to material properties. We begin by discussing materials based on proteins that have well‐defined three‐dimensional structures, focusing specifically on elastin‐ and silk‐like peptides. We then explore the newer field of materials based on intrinsically disordered proteins, using nucleoporin and neurofilament proteins as case studies. A key theme throughout the review is that specific environmental stimuli can trigger protein conformational changes, which in turn can alter macroscopic material properties and function. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2012, 4:204–218. doi: 10.1002/wnan.1160 This article is categorized under: Nanotechnology Approaches to Biology > Cells at the Nanoscale Nanotechnology Approaches to Biology > Nanoscale Systems in Biology

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Schematic of two common drug delivery strategies using elastin‐like proteins (ELPs). (a) Thermally triggered aggregation of soluble ELPs in tumors, which typically have higher temperatures than surrounding healthy tissues (Inset: aggregation triggered by temperature, pH, or ionic strength changes). (b) Hydrophobic drugs attached to ELPs trigger self‐assembly into micelles, which then preferentially accumulate in tumors by passive diffusion (Inset: self‐assembly triggered by drug attachment).

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Potential engineering applications of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). (a) Environmentally sensitive IDPs immobilized on solid support. (b) A setup that mimics in vivo gating mechanism via an entropic barrier formed by an immobilized brush layer. Cargo is translocated through the pore due to attractive interactions between the cargo and the IDP. (c) A setup mimicking mechanotransduction, in which mechanical stimuli induce conformational changes in IDPs. Such changes can also be triggered by varying solvent conditions. (d) Response of charged IDPs immobilized on electrodes to changes in electrical polarity.

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Regulation of neurofilament (NF) architecture by intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs). (a) NFs are arranged in a parallel fashion along the length of the axon. (b) Cross‐sectional views showing the nonrandom spatial arrangement of NFs. (c) Individual NFs with a structured backbone and IDP domains extending away from it. Steric repulsive forces mediated by the IDPs generate a zone of exclusion around each NF core, represented in gray. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 88. Copyright 2009 Elsevier Inc.)

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Gating nanopores with synthetic polymer brush. (a) Schematic of a single pore in a polycarbonate membrane coated with gold and functionalized with nucleoporins. A PEG layer was used to block any remaining exposed gold surface. (b) Transmission electron micrograph of a single pore on the functionalized membrane, incubated with receptor protein‐bound cargo (pseudocolored red). Receptor protein‐bound cargo binds to the nucleoporin layer on the gold surface and transits through the pore. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 80. Copyright 2009 Macmillan Publishers)

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Stem cell adhesion and differentiation on silk‐like protein (SLP)‐based materials. Morphology of hexameric SLP (6mer) and 6mer‐BSP films seeded with human mesenchymal stem cells and cultured for 3, 7, and 14 days. A1–A3 and C1–C3 represent 6mer film with and without cells, respectively. B1–B3 and D1–D3 represent 6mer+BSP film with and without cells, respectively. Calcium phosphate film on 6mer+BSP film seeded with cells (D3) appears globular while those without cells appear flat (B3). Arrows indicate cells with osteoblastic morphology. (Reprinted with permission from Ref 51. Copyright 2011 RSC Publishing)

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