Bioinspired assembly of small molecules in cell milieu
Self-assembly, the autonomous organization of components to form patterns or structures, is a prevalent process in nature at all scales. Particularly, biological systems offer remarkable examples of diverse structures (as well as building blocks) and processes resulting from self-assembly. The exploration of bioinspired assemblies not only allows for mimicking the structures of living systems, but it also leads to functions for applications in different fields that benefit humans. In the last several decades, efforts on understanding and controlling self-assembly of small molecules have produced a large library of candidates for developing the biomedical applications of assemblies of small molecules. Moreover, recent findings in biology have provided new insights on the assemblies of small molecules to modulate essential cellular processes (such as apoptosis). These observations indicate that the self-assembly of small molecules, as multifaceted entities and processes to interact with multiple proteins, can have profound biological impacts on cells. In this review, we illustrate that the generation of assemblies of small molecules in cell milieu with their interactions with multiple cellular proteins for regulating cellular processes can result in primary phenotypes, thus providing a fundamentally new molecular approach for controlling cell behavior. By discussing the correlation between molecular assemblies in nature and the assemblies of small molecules in cell milieu, illustrating the functions of the assemblies of small molecules, and summarizing some guiding principles, we hope this review will stimulate more molecular scientists to explore the bioinspired self-assembly of small molecules in cell milieu.