Peptides as bio-inspired electronic materials

7 September 2018:

A new paper with CNBP authors Jingxian Yu, John Horsley and Andrew Abell extends fundamental knowledge of charge transfer dynamics and kinetics in peptides and also open up new avenues to design and develop functional bio-inspired electronic devices, such as on/off switches and quantum interferometers, for practical applications in molecular electronics.

Journal: Accounts of Chemical Research.

Publication title: Peptides as Bio-Inspired Electronic Materials: An Electrochemical and First-Principles Perspective.

Authors: Jingxian Yu, John R. Horsley, and Andrew D. Abell.

Abstract: Molecular electronics is at the forefront of interdisciplinary research, offering a significant extension of the capabilities of conventional silicon-based technology as well as providing a possible stand-alone alternative. Bio-inspired molecular electronics is a particularly intriguing paradigm, as charge transfer in proteins/peptides, for example, plays a critical role in the energy storage and conversion processes for all living organisms. However, the structure and conformation of even the simplest protein is extremely complex, and therefore, synthetic model peptides comprising well-defined geometry and predetermined functionality are ideal platforms to mimic nature for the elucidation of fundamental biological processes while also enhancing the design and development of single-peptide electronic components.

In this Account, we first present intramolecular electron transfer within two synthetic peptides, one with a well-defined helical conformation and the other with a random geometry, using electrochemical techniques and computational simulations. This study reveals two definitive electron transfer pathways (mechanisms), the natures of which are dependent on secondary structure. Following on from this, electron transfer within a series of well-defined helical peptides, constrained by either Huisgen cycloaddition, ring-closing metathesis, or a lactam bridge, was determined. The electrochemical results indicate that each constrained peptide, in contrast to a linear counterpart, exhibits a remarkable shift of the formal potential to the positive (>460 mV) and a significant reduction of the electron transfer rate constant (up to 15-fold), which represent two distinct electronic “on/off” states. High-level calculations demonstrate that the additional backbone rigidity provided by the side-bridge constraints leads to an increased reorganization energy barrier, which impedes the vibrational fluctuations necessary for efficient intramolecular electron transfer through the peptide backbone. Further calculations reveal a clear mechanistic transition from hopping to superexchange (tunneling) stemming from side-bridge gating. We then extended our research to fine-tuning of the electronic properties of peptides through both structural and chemical manipulation, to reveal an interplay between electron-rich side chains and backbone rigidity on electron transfer. Further to this, we explored the possibility that the side-bridge constraints present in our synthetic peptides provide an additional electronic transport pathway, which led to the discovery of two distinct forms of quantum interferometer. The effects of destructive quantum interference appear essentially through both the backbone and an alternative tunneling pathway provided by the side bridge in the constrained β-strand peptide, as evidenced by a correlation between electrochemical measurements and conductance simulations for both linear and constrained β-strand peptides. In contrast, an interplay between quantum interference effects and vibrational fluctuations is revealed in the linear and constrained 310-helical peptides.