On the distribution of hydrophilic polyelectrolytes and their counterions around zwitterionic micelles: the possible impact on the charge density in solution†
Despite their charge neutrality, micelles composed of surfactants with zwitterionic headgroups selectively accumulate anions at their hydrophobic core/solution interphase due to electrostatic interactions if headgroup positive moieties are the innermost. This tendency may be markedly enhanced if polyions substitute simple ions. To investigate this possibility, solutions composed of zwitterionic micelles and hydrophilic polyanions have been investigated with Monte Carlo simulations representing the studied systems via primitive electrolyte models. Structural and energetic properties are obtained to highlight the impact of connecting simple ions into polyions on the interactions between electrolytes and micelles. Despite the latter, polyanions conserve their conformational properties. A marked increase in the concentration of charged species inside the micellar corona is, instead, found when polyions are present independently of their charge sign or the headgroup structure. Thus, polyelectrolytes act as “shuttle” for all charged species, with the potential of increasing reactions rates involving the latter due to mass effects. Besides, results for the polyions/micelles mixing free energy and Helmholtz energy profiles indicate that the critical micelle concentration is impacted minimally by hydrophilic polyelectrolytes, an outcome agreeing with experiments. This finding is entirely due to weak enthalpic effects while mixing hydrophilic polyions and micelles. A strong reduction in the screening of the micelle negative charge, acquired following the adsorption of anions in the corona and due to counterions layering just outside it (the so called “chameleon effect”), is forecasted when polyanions substitute monovalent anions.