Adsorption of semiflexible polymers in crowded environments

G Chauhan and ML Simpson and SM Abel, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 155, 034904 (2021).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0054797

Macromolecular crowding is a feature of cellular and cell-free systems that, through depletion effects, can impact the interactions of semiflexible biopolymers with surfaces. In this work, we use computer simulations to study crowding-induced adsorption of semiflexible polymers on otherwise repulsive surfaces. Crowding particles are modeled explicitly, and we investigate the interplay between the bending stiffness of the polymer and the volume fraction and size of crowding particles. Adsorption to flat surfaces is promoted by stiffer polymers, smaller crowding particles, and larger volume fractions of crowders. We characterize transitions from non-adsorbed to partially and strongly adsorbed states as a function of bending stiffness. The crowding-induced transitions occur at smaller values of the bending stiffness as the volume fraction of crowders increases. Concomitant effects on the size and shape of the polymer are reflected by crowding- and stiffness- dependent changes to the radius of gyration. For various polymer lengths, we identify a critical crowding fraction for adsorption and analyze its scaling behavior in terms of polymer stiffness. We also consider crowding-induced adsorption in spherical confinement and identify a regime in which increasing the bending stiffness induces desorption. The results of our simulations shed light on the interplay of crowding and bending stiffness on the spatial organization of biopolymers in encapsulated cellular and cell-free systems.

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