Two-Dimensional Packing of Short DNA with Nonpairing Overhangs in Cationic Liposome-DNA Complexes: From Onsager Nematics to Columnar Nematics with Finite-Length Columns

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We report the formation of liquid crystalline (LC) phases of short double-stranded DNA with nonpairing (nonsticky) overhangs, confined between two-dimensional (2D) lipid bilayers of cationic liposome-DNA complexes. In a landmark study (Science 2007, 318, 1276), Nakata et al. reported on the discovery of strong end-to-end stacking interactions between short DNAs (sDNAs) with blunt ends, leading to the formation of 3D nematic (N) and columnar LC phases. Employing synchrotron small-angle X-ray scattering, we have studied the interplay between shape anisotropy-induced and DNA end-to-end interaction-induced N ordering for 11, 24, and 48 bp sDNA rods with single-stranded oligo-thymine (T) overhangs modulating the end-to-end interactions. For suppressed stacking interactions with 10-T overhangs, the volume fraction of sDNA at which the 2D isotropic (I)-to-N transition occurs for 24 and 48 bp sDNA rods depended on their length-to-width (L/D) shape anisotropy, qualitatively consistent with Onsager's theory for the entropic alignment of rigid rods. As the overhang length is reduced from 10 to 5 and 2 T for 24 and 48 bp sDNA, the N-to-I transition occurs at lower volume fractions, indicating the onset of some degree of end-to-end stacking interactions. The 11 bp sDNA rods with 5- and 10-T overhangs remain in the I phase, consistent with their small shape anisotropy (LID approximate to 1.9) below the limit for Onsager LC ordering. Unexpectedly, in contrast to the behavior of 24 and 48 bp sDNA, the end-to-end interactions between 11 bp sDNA rods with 2-T overhang: 3 set in dramatically, and a novel 2D columnar N phase (N-C) with finite-length columns formed. The building blocks of this phase are comprised of ID stacks of (on average) four 11 bp DNA-2T rods with an effective L-stacked/D approximate to 8.2. Our findings have implications for the DNA-directed assembly of nanoparticles on 2D platforms via end-to-end interactions and in designing optimally packed LC phases of short anisotropic biomolecules (such as peptides and short-interfering RNAs) on nanopartide membranes, which are used in gene silencing and chemical delivery.
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JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, v.133, no.19, pp.7585 - 7595

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