Coarse-Grained Simulations of the Impact of Chain Length and Stiffness on the Formation and Aggregation of Polyelectrolyte Complexes


Polyelectrolyte complexes formed from nucleic acids and synthetic polycations are studied because of their potential in gene delivery. Coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations are performed to examine the impact of chain length and polyanion stiffness on polyplex formation and aggregation. Polyplexes containing single polyanion chain fall into three structural regimes depending on polyanion stiffness: flexible polyanions form collapsed complexes, semiflexible polyanions form various morphologies including toroids and hairpins, and stiff polyanions form rod-like structures. Polyplex size generally decreases as polycation length increases. Polyelectrolyte complexes aggregate in some simulations containing multiple polyanions and an excess of short polycations. Aggregation is observed to only occur for semiflexible and stiff polyanions and is promoted by shorter polycation lengths. Simulations of short, stiff polyanions condensed by long polycations are used as a model for siRNA gene delivery complexes. These simulations show multiple polyanions are spaced out along the polycation with polyanion–polyanion interactions, usually limited to overlapping chain ends. These structures differ from aggregates of longer polyanions in which the polyanions are packed together in parallel, forming bundles.

Publication Title

Macromolecular Theory and Simulations