Design of polymer conjugated 3-helix micelles as nanocarriers with tunable shapes
Amphiphilic peptide–polymer conjugates have the ability to form stable nanoscale micelles, which show great promise for drug delivery and other applications. A recent design has utilized the end-conjugation of alkyl chains to 3-helix coiled coils to achieve amphiphilicity, combined with the side-chain conjugation of polyethylene glycol (PEG) to tune micelle size through entropic confinement forces. Here we investigate this phenomenon in depth, using coarse-grained dissipative particle dynamics (DPD) simulations in an explicit solvent and micelle theory. We analyze the conformations of PEG chains conjugated to three different positions on 3-helix bundle peptides to ascertain the degree of confinement upon assembly, as well as the ordering of the subunits making up the micelle. We discover that the micelle size and stability is dictated by a competition between the entropy of PEG chain conformations in the assembled state, as well as intermolecular cross-interactions among PEG chains that promote cohesion between neighboring conjugates. Our analyses build on the role of PEG molecular weight and conjugation site and lead to computational phase diagrams that can be used to design 3-helix micelles. This work opens pathways for the design of multifunctional micelles with tunable size, shape and stability.