• amyloid fibril;
  • protein assembly;
  • bionanomaterials;
  • morphology


Amyloid fibrils have potential as bionanomaterials. A bottleneck in their commercial use is the cost of the highly purified protein typically needed as a starting material. Thus, an understanding of the role of heterogeneity in the mixtures from which amyloid fibrils are formed may inform production of these structures from readily available impure starting materials. Insulin, a very well understood amyloid-forming protein, was modified by various reagents to explore whether amyloid fibrils could still form from a heterogeneous mixture of insulin derivatives. Aggregates were characterized by thioflavin T fluorescence and transmission electron microscopy. Using acetylation, reduction carboxymethylation, reduction pyridylethylation, trypsin digestion and chymotrypsin digestion, it was shown that amyloid fibrils can form from heterogeneous mixtures of modified insulin. The modifications changed both the rate of reaction and the yield of the final product, but led to fibrillar structures, some with interesting morphologies. Well defined, long, unbranched fibrils were observed in the crude reduced carboxymethylated insulin mixture and the crude reduced pyridylethylated insulin revealed the formation of “wavy” fibrils, compared with the straighter native insulin amyloid fibrils. Although trypsin digestion inhibited fibrils formation, chymotrypsin digestion of insulin produced a mixture of long and short fibrils under the same conditions. We conclude that amyloid fibrils may be successfully formed from heterogeneous mixtures and, further, that chemical modification may provide a simple means of manipulating protein fibril assembly for use in bionanotechnological applications, enabling some design of overall morphology in the bottom-up assembly of higher order protein structures from amyloid fibrils. © 2011 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Biotechnol. Prog., 2011