Urea-Modified Self-Assembling Peptide Amphiphiles That Form Well-Defined Nanostructures and Hydrogels for Biomedical Applications

Huihua Xing, Alison Rodger, Jeffrey Comer, Agustín S. Picco, Cristián Huck-Iriart, Edward L. Ezell, Martin Conda-Sheridan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Hydrogen bonding plays a critical role in the self-assembly of peptide amphiphiles (PAs). Herein, we studied the effect of replacing the amide linkage between the peptide and lipid portions of the PA with a urea group, which possesses an additional hydrogen bond donor. We prepared three PAs with the peptide sequence Phe-Phe-Glu-Glu (FFEE): two are amide-linked with hydrophobic tails of different lengths and the other possesses an alkylated urea group. The differences in the self-assembled structures formed by these PAs were assessed using diverse microscopies, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), and dichroism techniques. We found that the urea group influences the morphology and internal arrangement of the assemblies. Molecular dynamics simulations suggest that there are about 50% more hydrogen bonds in nanostructures assembled from the urea-PA than those assembled from the other PAs. Furthermore, in silico studies suggest the presence of urea-πstacking interactions with the phenyl group of Phe, which results in distinct peptide conformations in comparison to the amide-linked PAs. We then studied the effect of the urea modification on the mechanical properties of PA hydrogels. We found that the hydrogel made of the urea-PA exhibits increased stability and self-healing ability. In addition, it allows cell adhesion, spreading, and growth as a matrix. This study reveals that the inclusion of urea bonds might be useful in controlling the morphology, mechanical, and biological properties of self-assembled nanostructures and hydrogels formed by the PAs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4599-4610
Number of pages12
JournalACS Applied Bio Materials
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 17 2022


  • 3D cell culture
  • hydrogel
  • hydrogen bonding
  • nanostructures
  • peptide amphiphiles
  • self-assembly

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • General Chemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, medical


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