Structural elucidation of polydopamine facilitated by ionic liquid solvation†
Minimal understanding of the formation mechanism and structure of polydopamine (pDA) and its natural analogue, eumelanin, impedes the practical application of these versatile polymers and limits our knowledge of the origin of melanoma. The lack of conclusive structural evidence stems from the insolubility of these materials, which has spawned significantly diverse suggestions of pDA's structure in the literature. We discovered that pDA is soluble in certain ionic liquids. Using these ionic liquids (ILs) as solvents, we present an experimental methodology to solvate pDA, enabling us to identify pDA's chemical structure. The resolved pDA structure consists of self-assembled supramolecular aggregates that contribute to the increasing complexity of the polymer. The underlying molecular energetics of pDA solvation and a macroscopic picture of the disruption of the aggregates using IL solvents have been investigated, along with studies of the aggregation mechanism in water.