Formation of peptide-based oligomers in dimethylsulfoxide: identifying the precursor of fibril formation†
The well-studied dipeptide fluorenylmethyloxycarbonyl-di-phenylalanine (FmocFF) forms a rigid hydrogel upon dissolving in dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO) and dilution in H2O. Here, we explored the pre-aggregation of the peptide in pure DMSO by vibrational spectroscopies, X-ray powder diffraction and dynamic light scattering. Our results show an equilibrium between a dominant population of amorphous oligomers (on a length scale of 2 nm) and a small number of protofibrils/fibrils (on a length scale of 30 nm in the centimolar and of 200 nm in the sub-molar region). To probe the mechanism underlying the formation of these protofilaments, we measured the 1H-NMR, IR and visible Raman spectra of DMSO containing different FmocFF concentrations, ranging between 10 and 300 mM. Our data reveal that interpeptide hydrogen bonding leads to the self-assembly of FmocFF in the centimolar region, while π–π stacking between Fmoc-groups is observed above 100 mM. The high 3J(HNHCα) coupling constant of the N-terminal amide proton indicates that the Fmoc end-cap of the peptide locks the N-terminal residue into a conformational ensemble centered at a ϕ-value of ca. −120°, which corresponds to a parallel β-sheet type conformation. The 3J(HNHCα) coupling constant of the C-terminal residue is indicative of a polyproline II (pPII)/βt mixture. Our results suggest that the gelation of FmocFF caused by the addition of a small amount of water to DMSO mixtures is facilitated by the formation of disordered protofibrils in pure DMSO.