Structure and stimuli-responsiveness of all-DNA dendrimers: theory and experiment
We present a comprehensive theoretical and experimental study of the solution phase properties of a DNA-based family of nanoparticles - dendrimer-like DNA molecules (DL-DNA). These charged DNA dendrimers are novel macromolecular aggregates, which hold high promise in targeted self-assembly of soft matter systems in the bulk and at interfaces. To describe the behaviour of this family of dendrimers (with generations ranging from G1 to G7), we use a theoretical model in which base-pairs of a single DL-DNA molecule are modeled by charged monomers, whose interactions are chosen to mimic the equilibrium properties of DNA correctly. Experimental results on the sizes and conformations of DL-DNA are based on static and dynamic light scattering; and molecular dynamics simulations are employed to model the equilibrium properties of DL-DNA, which compare favorably to the findings from experiments while at the same time providing a host of additional information and insight into the molecular structure of the nanostructures. We also examine the salt-responsiveness of these macromolecules, finding that despite the strong screening of electrostatic interactions brought about by the added salt, the macromolecules shrink only slightly, their size robustness stemming from the high bending rigidity of the DNA-segments. The study of these charged dendrimer systems is an important field of research in the area of soft matter due to their potential role for various interdisciplinary applications, ranging from molecular cages and carriers for drug delivery in a living organism to the development of dendrimer- and dendron-based ultra-thin films in the area of nanotechnology. These findings are essential to determine if DL-DNA is a viable candidate for the experimental realization of cluster crystals in the bulk, a novel form of solid with multiple site occupancy.