Kinetic analysis as a tool to distinguish pathway complexity in molecular assembly : an unexpected outcome of structures in competition

D. Zwaag, van der, P.A. Pieters, P.A. Korevaar, A.J. Markvoort, A.J.H. Spiering, T.F.A. Greef, de, E.W. Meijer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

72 Citations (Scopus)
56 Downloads (Pure)


While the sensitive dependence of the functional characteristics of self-assembled nanofibers on the molecular structure of their building blocks is well-known, the crucial influence of the dynamics of the assembly process is often overlooked. For natural protein-based fibrils, various aggregation mechanisms have been demonstrated, from simple primary nucleation to secondary nucleation and off-pathway aggregation. Similar pathway complexity has recently been described in synthetic supramolecular polymers and has been shown to be intimately linked to their morphology. Considering the myriad interactions possible in molecular assembly, choosing an appropriate model to study one-dimensional self-assembly can seem a daunting task and is often not given sufficient consideration. We outline a general method to investigate the consequences of the presence of multiple assembly pathways, and show how kinetic analysis can be used to distinguish different assembly mechanisms. We illustrate our combined experimental and theoretical approach by studying the aggregation of chiral bipyridine-extended 1,3,5-benzenetricarboxamides (BiPy-1) in n-butanol as a model system. Our workflow consists of non-linear least-squares analysis of steady-state spectroscopic measurements, which cannot provide conclusive mechanistic information but yields the equilibrium constants of the self-assembly process as constraints for subsequent kinetic analysis. Furthermore, kinetic nucleation-elongation models based on one and two competing pathways are used to interpret time-dependent spectroscopic measurements acquired using stop-flow and temperature-jump methods. Thus, we reveal that the sharp transition observed in the aggregation process of BiPy-1 cannot be explained by a single cooperative pathway, but can be described by a competitive two-pathway mechanism. This work provides a general tool for analyzing supramolecular polymerizations and establishing energetic landscapes, leading to mechanistic insights that at first sight may seem unexpected and counterintuitive.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12677-12688
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number39
Publication statusPublished - 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Kinetic analysis as a tool to distinguish pathway complexity in molecular assembly : an unexpected outcome of structures in competition'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this