Solid-State Nanostructured Materials from Self-Assembly of a Globular Protein–Polymer Diblock Copolymer

Self-assembly of three-dimensional solid-state nanostructures containing approximately 33% by weight globular protein is demonstrated using a globular protein–polymer diblock copolymer, providing a route to direct nanopatterning of proteins for use in bioelectronic and biocatalytic materials. A mutant red fluorescent protein, mCherryS131C, was prepared by incorporation of a unique cysteine residue and site-specifically conjugated to end-functionalized poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) through thiol–maleimide coupling to form a well-defined model protein–polymer block copolymer. The block copolymer was self-assembled into bulk nanostructures by solvent evaporation from concentrated solutions. Small-angle X-ray scattering and transmission electron microscopy illustrated the formation of highly disordered lamellae or hexagonally perforated lamellae depending upon the selectivity of the solvent during evaporation. Solvent annealing of bulk samples resulted in a transition toward lamellar nanostructures with mCherry packed in a bilayer configuration and a large improvement in long-range ordering. Wide-angle X-ray scattering indicated that mCherry did not crystallize within the block copolymer nanodomains and that the β-sheet spacing was not affected by self-assembly. Circular dichroism showed no change in protein secondary structure after self-assembly, while UV–vis spectroscopy indicated approximately 35% of the chromophore remained optically active.