Nano-thin walled micro-compartments from transmembrane protein–polymer conjugates
The high interfacial activity of protein–polymer conjugates has inspired their use as stabilizers for Pickering emulsions, resulting in many interesting applications such as synthesis of templated micro-compartments and protocells or vehicles for drug and gene delivery. In this study we report, for the first time, the stabilization of Pickering emulsions with conjugates of a genetically modified transmembrane protein, ferric hydroxamate uptake protein component A (FhuA). The lysine residues of FhuA with open pore (FhuA ΔCVFtev) were modified to attach an initiator and consequently controlled radical polymerization (CRP) carried out via the grafting-from technique. The resulting conjugates of FhuA ΔCVFtev with poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAm) and poly((2-dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate) (PDMAEMA), the so-called building blocks based on transmembrane proteins (BBTP), have been shown to engender larger structures. The properties such as pH-responsivity, temperature-responsivity and interfacial activity of the BBTP were analyzed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry and pendant drop tensiometry. The BBTP were then utilized for the synthesis of highly stable Pickering emulsions, which could remain non-coalesced for well over a month. A new UV-crosslinkable monomer was synthesized and copolymerized with NIPAAm from the protein. The emulsion droplets, upon crosslinking of polymer chains, yielded micro-compartments. Fluorescence microscopy proved that these compartments are of micrometer scale, while cryo-scanning electron microscopy and scanning force microscopy analysis yielded a thickness in the range of 11.1 ± 0.6 to 38.0 ± 18.2 nm for the stabilizing layer of the conjugates. Such micro-compartments would prove to be beneficial in drug delivery applications, owing to the possibility of using the channel of the transmembrane protein as a gate and the smart polymer chains as trigger switches to tune the behavior of the capsules.