Langmuir, Vol.34, No.48, 14678-14689, 2018
Single-Molecule Study of Peptide Gel Dynamics Reveals States of Prestress
De novo peptide surfactant (I3K) gels provide an ideal system to study the complex dynamics of lightly cross-linked semiflexible fibers because of their large contour lengths, simple chemistry, and slow dynamics. We used single-molecule fluorescence microscopy to record individual fibers and Fourier decomposition of the fiber dynamics to separate thermal contributions to the persistence length from compressive states of prestress (SPS). Our results show that SPS in the network depend strongly on peptide concentration, buffer, and pH and that the fibril energies in SPS follow a Levy distribution. The presence of SPS in the network imply that collective states of self-stress are also present. Therefore, semiflexible polymer gels need to be considered as complex load-bearing structures and the mean field models for polymer gel elasticity and dynamics often applied to them will not be fully representative of the behavior at the nanoscale. We quantify the impact of cross-links on reptation tube dynamics, which provides a second population of tube fluctuations in addition to those expected for uncross-linked entangled solutions.