The conformational phase diagram of charged polymers in the presence of attractive bridging crowders

K Tripathi and H Garg and R Rajesh and S Vemparala, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 159, 204903 (2023).

DOI: 10.1063/5.0172696

Using extensive molecular dynamics simulations, we obtain the conformational phase diagram of a charged polymer in the presence of oppositely charged counterions and neutral attractive crowders for monovalent, divalent, and trivalent counterion valencies. We demonstrate that the charged polymer can exist in three phases: (1) an extended phase for low charge densities and weak polymer-crowder attractive interactions Charged Extended (CE); (2) a collapsed phase for high charge densities and weak polymer-crowder attractive interactions, primarily driven by counterion condensation Charged Collapsed due to Intra-polymer interactions (CCI); and (3) a collapsed phase for strong polymer-crowder attractive interactions, irrespective of the charge density, driven by crowders acting as bridges or cross-links Charged Collapsed due to Bridging interactions (CCB). Importantly, simulations reveal that the interaction with crowders can induce collapse, despite the presence of strong repulsive electrostatic interactions, and can replace condensed counterions to facilitate a direct transition from the CCI and CE phases to the CCB phase.

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