Hydrophobic pattern of alkylated ureas markedly affects water rotation and hydrogen bond dynamics in aqueous solution†
Alkylated ureas are frequently used amphiphiles to mediate biomolecule water interactions, yet their hydrophobic substitution pattern critically affects their function. These differences can be traced back to their hydration, which is poorly understood. Here, we investigate subtle effects of the hydrophobic pattern of ureas on hydration dynamics using a combination of linear and non-linear infrared spectroscopies on the OD stretching vibration of HDO. Isomeric 1,3-dimethylurea (1,3-DMU), 1,1-dimethylurea (1,1-DMU) and 1-ethylurea (1-EU) exhibit very similar and rather weak modulation of the water hydrogen-bond strength distribution. Yet, only 1,3-DMU and 1,1-DMU enhance the hydrogen-bond heterogeneity and slow-down its fluctuation dynamics. In turn, rotational dynamics of water molecules, which is dominated by hydrogen bond switches, is significantly impeded in the presence of 1,3-DMU and only weakly by 1,1-DMU and 1-EU. These marked differences can be explained by both excluded volume effects in hydration and self-aggregation, which may be the key to their biotechnological function.