Polypeptide vesicles with densely packed multilayer membranes†
Multilamellar membranes are important building blocks for constructing self-assembled structures with improved barrier properties, such as multilamellar lipid vesicles. Polymeric vesicles (polymersomes) have attracted growing interest, but multilamellar polymersomes are much less explored. Here, we report the formation of polypeptide vesicles with unprecedented densely packed multilayer membrane structures with poly(ethylene glycol)-block-poly(γ-(4,5-dimethoxy-2-nitrobenzyl)-L-glutamate) (PEG-b-PL), an amphiphilic diblock rod-coil copolymer containing a short PEG block and a short hydrophobic rod-like polypeptide segment. The polypeptide rods undergo smectic ordering with PEG buried between the hydrophobic polypeptide layers. The size of both blocks and the rigidity of the hydrophobic polypeptide block are critical in determining the membrane structures. Increase of the PEG length in PEG-b-PL results in the formation of bilayer sheets, while using random-coil polypeptide block leads to the formation of large compound micelles. UV treatment causes ester bond cleavage of the polypeptide side chain, which induces helix-to-coil transition, change of copolymer amphiphilicity, and eventual disassembly of vesicles. These polypeptide vesicles with unique membrane structures provide a new insight into self-assembly structure control by precisely tuning the composition and conformation of polymeric amphiphiles.