The amphiphilic double-tail peptides AXG were studied regarding secondary structure and self-assembly in aqueous solution. The two tails A = Ala6 and G = Gly6 are connected by a central pair X of hydrophilic residues, X being two aspartic acids in ADG, two lysines in AKG and two arginines in ARG. The peptide AD (Ala6Asp) served as a single-tail reference. The secondary structure of the four peptides was characterized by circular dichroism spectroscopy under a wide range of peptide concentrations (0.01–0.8 mM), temperatures (20–98 °C), pHs (4–9.5) and ionic strengths. In salt-free water both ADG and AD form a β-sheet type of structure at high concentration, low pH and low temperature, in a peptide–peptide driven assembly of individual peptides. The transition has a two-state character for ADG but not for AD, which indicates that the added tail in ADG makes the assembly more cooperative. By comparison the secondary structures of AKG and ARG are comparatively stable over the large range of conditions covered. According to dynamic light scattering the two-tail peptides form supra-molecular aggregates in water, but high-resolution AFM-imaging indicate that ordered (self-assembled) structures are only formed when salt (0.1 M NaCl) is added. Since the CD-studies indicate that the NaCl has only a minor effect on the peptide secondary structure we propose that the main role of the added salt is to screen the electrostatic repulsion between the peptide building blocks. According to the AFM images ADG and AKG support a correlation between nanofibers and a β-sheet or unordered secondary structure, whereas ARG forms fibers in spite of lacking β-sheet structure. Since the AKG and ARG double-tail peptides self-assemble into distinct nanostructures while their secondary structures are resistant to environment factors, these new peptides show potential as robust building blocks for nano-materials in various medical and nanobiotechnical applications.
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