Site-to-site peptide transport on a molecular platform using a small-molecule robotic arm†
Peptides attached to a cysteine hydrazide ‘transporter module’ are transported selectively in either direction between two chemically similar sites on a molecular platform, enabled by the discovery of new operating methods for a molecular transporter that functions through ratcheting. Substrate repositioning is achieved using a small-molecule robotic arm controlled by a protonation-mediated rotary switch and attachment/release dynamic covalent chemistry. A polar solvent mixtures were found to favour Z to E isomerization of the doubly-protonated switch, transporting cargo in one direction (arbitrarily defined as ‘forward’) in up to 85% yield, while polar solvent mixtures were unexpectedly found to favour E to Z isomerization enabling transport in the reverse (‘backward’) direction in >98% yield. Transport of the substrates proceeded in a matter of hours (compared to 6 days even for simple cargoes with the original system) without the peptides at any time dissociating from the machine nor exchanging with others in the bulk. Under the new operating conditions, key intermediates of the switch are sufficiently stabilized within the macrocycle formed between switch, arm, substrate and platform that they can be identified and structurally characterized by 1H NMR. The size of the peptide cargo has no significant effect on the rate or efficiency of transport in either direction. The new operating conditions allow detailed physical organic chemistry of the ratcheted transport mechanism to be uncovered, improve efficiency, and enable the transport of more complex cargoes than was previously possible.