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Issue 7, 2018
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Ship in a bottle: confinement-promoted self-assembly

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Understanding self-assembly in confined spaces is essential to fully understand molecular processes in confined cell compartments and will offer clues on the behaviour of simple confined systems, such as protocells and lipid-vesicle based devices. Using a model system composed of lipid vesicles, a membrane impermeable receptor and a membrane-permeable ligand, we have studied in detail how compartmentalization modulates the interaction between the confined receptor and its ligand. We demonstrate that confinement of one of the building blocks stabilizes complex self-assembled structures to the extent that dilution leads, counterintuitively, to the formation of long range assemblies. The behaviour of the system can be explained by considering a confinement factor that is analogous, although not identical, to the effective molarity for intramolecular binding events. The confinement effect renders complex self-assembled species robust and persistent under conditions where they do not form in bulk solution. Moreover, we show that the formation of stable complex assemblies in systems compartmentalized by semi-permeable membranes does not require the prior confinement of all components, but only that of key membrane impermeable building blocks. To use a macroscopic analogy, lipid vesicles are like ship-in-a bottle constructs that are capable of directing the assembly of the confined ship following the confinement of a few key wooden planks. Therefore, we believe that the confinement effect described here would have played an important role in shaping the increase of chemical complexity within protocells during the first stages of abiogenesis. Additionally, we argue that this effect can be exploited to design increasingly efficient functional devices based on comparatively simple vesicles for applications in biosensing, nanoreactors and drug delivery vehicles.

Graphical abstract: Ship in a bottle: confinement-promoted self-assembly

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The article was received on 20 Oct 2017, accepted on 07 Dec 2017 and first published on 07 Dec 2017

Article type: Edge Article
DOI: 10.1039/C7SC04553K
Citation: Chem. Sci., 2018,9, 1760-1768
  • Open access: Creative Commons BY-NC license
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    Ship in a bottle: confinement-promoted self-assembly

    E. Lopez-Fontal, A. Grochmal, T. Foran, L. Milanesi and S. Tomas, Chem. Sci., 2018, 9, 1760
    DOI: 10.1039/C7SC04553K

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