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Crystal structure of a foldamer reported by Lehn and coworkers in Helv. Chim. Acta, 2003, 86, 1598-1624. Lehn Beautiful Foldamer HelvChimActa 1598 2003.jpg
Crystal structure of a foldamer reported by Lehn and coworkers in Helv. Chim. Acta, 2003, 86, 1598–1624.
Dynamic view of an alpha-beta foldamer

In chemistry, a foldamer is a discrete chain molecule or oligomer that folds into a conformationally ordered state in solution. They are artificial molecules that mimic the ability of proteins, nucleic acids, and polysaccharides to fold into well-defined conformations, such as helices and β-sheets. The structure of a foldamer is stabilized by noncovalent interactions between nonadjacent monomers. [2] [3] Foldamers are studied with the main goal of designing large molecules with predictable structures. The study of foldamers is related to the themes of molecular self-assembly, molecular recognition, and host–guest chemistry.



Free energy diagram of the folding of a foldamer. Folding energy diagram.png
Free energy diagram of the folding of a foldamer.

Foldamers can vary in size, but they are defined by the presence of noncovalent, nonadjacent interactions. This definition excludes molecules like poly(isocyanates) (commonly known as (polyurethane)) and poly(prolines) as they fold into helices reliably due to adjacent covalent interactions., [4] Foldamers have a dynamic folding reaction [unfolded → folded], in which large macroscopic folding is caused by solvophobic effects (hydrophobic collapse), while the final energy state of the folded foldamer is due to the noncovalent interactions. These interactions work cooperatively to form the most stable tertiary structure, as the completely folded and unfolded states are more stable than any partially folded state. [5]

Prediction of folding

The structure of a foldamer can often be predicted from its primary sequence. This process involves dynamic simulations of the folding equilibria at the atomic level under various conditions. This type of analysis may be applied to small proteins as well, however computational technology is unable to simulate all but the shortest of sequences. [6]

The folding pathway of a foldamer can be determined by measuring the variation from the experimentally determined favored structure under different thermodynamic and kinetic conditions. The change in structure is measured by calculating the root mean square deviation from the backbone atomal position of the favored structure. The structure of the foldamer under different conditions can be determined computationally and then verified experimentally. Changes in the temperature, solvent viscosity, pressure, pH, and salt concentration can all yield valuable information about the structure of the foldamer. Measuring the kinetics of folding as well as folding equilibria allow one to observe the effects of these different conditions on the foldamer structure. [6]

Solvent often influences folding. For example, a folding pathway involving hydrophobic collapse would fold differently in a nonpolar solvent. This difference is due to the fact that different solvents stabilize different intermediates of the folding pathway as well as different final foldamer structures based on intermolecular noncovalent interactions. [6]

Noncovalent interactions

Noncovalent intermolecular interactions, albeit individually small, their summation alters chemical reactions in major ways. Listed below are common intermolecular forces that chemists have used to design foldamers.

Common designs

Foldamers are classified into three different categories: peptidomimetic foldamers, nucleotidomimetic foldamers, and abiotic foldamers. Peptidomimetic foldamers are synthetic molecules that mimic the structure of proteins, while nucleotidomimetic foldamers are based on the interactions in nucleic acids. Abiotic foldamers are stabilized by aromatic and charge-transfer interactions which are not generally found in nature. [2] The three designs described below deviate from Moore's [3] strict definition of a foldamer, which excludes helical foldamers.


Peptidomimetic foldamers often break the previously mentioned definition of foldamers as they often adopt helical structures. They represent a major landmark of foldamer research due to their design and capabilities. [7] [8] The largest groups of peptidomimetic consist of β – peptides, γ – peptides and δ – peptides, and the possible monomeric combinations. [8] The amino acids of these peptides only differ by one (β), two (γ) or three (δ) methylene carbons, yet the structural changes were profound. These peptide sequences are highly studied as sequence control leads to reliable folding prediction. Additionally, with multiple methylene carbons between the carboxyl and amino termini of the flanking peptide bonds, Varying R group side chains can be designed. One example of the novelty of β-peptides can be seen in the findings of Reiser and coworkers. [9] Using a heteroligopeptide consisting of α-amino acids and cis-β-aminocyclopropanecarboxulic acids (cis-β-ACCs) they found the formation of helical sequences in oligomers as short as seven residues and defined conformation in five residues; a quality unique to peptides containing cyclic β-amino acids. [10] [11] [12] [13]


Nucleotidomimetics do not generally qualify as foldamers. Most are designed to mimic single DNA bases, nucleosides, or nucleotides in order to nonspecifically target DNA. [14] [15] [16] These have several different medicinal uses including anti-cancer, anti-viral, and anti-fungal applications.


Folding and Coordination of an Oligopyrrole Oligopyrroles..png
Folding and Coordination of an Oligopyrrole

Abiotic foldamers are again organic molecules designed to exhibit dynamic folding. They exploit one or a few known key intermolecular interactions, as optimized by their design. One example is oligopyrroles that organize upon binding anions like chloride through hydrogen bonding (see figure). Folding is induced in the presence of an anion: the polypyrrole groups have little conformational restriction otherwise. [17] [18]

Other examples

Related Research Articles

Alpha helix Type of secondary structure of proteins

The alpha helix (α-helix) is a common motif in the secondary structure of proteins and is a right hand-helix conformation in which every backbone N−H group hydrogen bonds to the backbone C=O group of the amino acid located four residues earlier along the protein sequence.

Active site

In biology, the active site is region of an enzyme where substrate molecules bind and undergo a chemical reaction. The active site consists of amino acid residues that form temporary bonds with the substrate and residues that catalyse a reaction of that substrate. Although the active site occupies only ~10–20% of the volume of an enzyme, it is the most important part as it directly catalyzes the chemical reaction. It usually consists of three to four amino acids, while other amino acids within the protein are required to maintain the tertiary structure of the enzymes.

Protein structure Three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in an amino acid-chain molecule

Protein structure is the three-dimensional arrangement of atoms in an amino acid-chain molecule. Proteins are polymers – specifically polypeptides – formed from sequences of amino acids, the monomers of the polymer. A single amino acid monomer may also be called a residue indicating a repeating unit of a polymer. Proteins form by amino acids undergoing condensation reactions, in which the amino acids lose one water molecule per reaction in order to attach to one another with a peptide bond. By convention, a chain under 30 amino acids is often identified as a peptide, rather than a protein. To be able to perform their biological function, proteins fold into one or more specific spatial conformations driven by a number of non-covalent interactions such as hydrogen bonding, ionic interactions, Van der Waals forces, and hydrophobic packing. To understand the functions of proteins at a molecular level, it is often necessary to determine their three-dimensional structure. This is the topic of the scientific field of structural biology, which employs techniques such as X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, cryo electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and dual polarisation interferometry to determine the structure of proteins.

Peptoids, or poly-N-substituted glycines, are a class of peptidomimetics whose side chains are appended to the nitrogen atom of the peptide backbone, rather than to the α-carbons.


β-peptides are peptides derived from β-amino acids. The parent β-amino acids is H2NCH2CH2CO2H but most examples feature substituents in place of one or more C-H bonds. The only common naturally occurring β amino acid is β-alanine. β-peptides in general do not appear in nature. β-peptide-based antibiotics are being explored as ways of evading antibiotic resistance. Early studies in this field were published in 1996 by the group of Dieter Seebach and that of Samuel Gellman.


A peptidomimetic is a small protein-like chain designed to mimic a peptide. They typically arise either from modification of an existing peptide, or by designing similar systems that mimic peptides, such as peptoids and β-peptides. Irrespective of the approach, the altered chemical structure is designed to advantageously adjust the molecular properties such as stability or biological activity. This can have a role in the development of drug-like compounds from existing peptides. These modifications involve changes to the peptide that will not occur naturally. Based on their similarity with the precursor peptide, peptidomimetics can be grouped into four classes where A features the most and D the least similarities. Classes A and B involve peptide-like scaffolds, while classes C and D include small molecules.

A non-covalent interaction differs from a covalent bond in that it does not involve the sharing of electrons, but rather involves more dispersed variations of electromagnetic interactions between molecules or within a molecule. The chemical energy released in the formation of non-covalent interactions is typically on the order of 1–5 kcal/mol (1000–5000 calories per 6.02 × 1023 molecules). Non-covalent interactions can be classified into different categories, such as electrostatic, π-effects, van der Waals forces, and hydrophobic effects.

Pi-Stacking (chemistry) Attractive interactions between aromatic rings

In chemistry, pi stacking refers to attractive, noncovalent interactions between aromatic rings, since they contain pi bonds. These interactions are important in nucleobase stacking within DNA and RNA molecules, protein folding, template-directed synthesis, materials science, and molecular recognition, although some research suggests that pi stacking may not be operative in some of these applications. Despite intense experimental and theoretical interest, there is no unified description of the factors that contribute to pi stacking interactions.

Bovine pancreatic ribonuclease

Bovine pancreatic ribonuclease, also often referred to as bovine pancreatic ribonuclease A or simply RNase A, is a pancreatic ribonuclease enzyme that cleaves single-stranded RNA. Bovine pancreatic ribonuclease is one of the classic model systems of protein science. Two Nobel Prizes in Chemistry have been awarded in recognition of work on bovine pancreatic ribonuclease: in 1972, the Prize was awarded to Christian Anfinsen for his work on protein folding and to Stanford Moore and William Stein for their work on the relationship between the protein's structure and its chemical mechanism; in 1984, the Prize was awarded to Robert Bruce Merrifield for development of chemical synthesis of proteins.

Cation–pi interaction

Cation–π interaction is a noncovalent molecular interaction between the face of an electron-rich π system (e.g. benzene, ethylene, acetylene) and an adjacent cation (e.g. Li+, Na+). This interaction is an example of noncovalent bonding between a monopole (cation) and a quadrupole (π system). Bonding energies are significant, with solution-phase values falling within the same order of magnitude as hydrogen bonds and salt bridges. Similar to these other non-covalent bonds, cation–π interactions play an important role in nature, particularly in protein structure, molecular recognition and enzyme catalysis. The effect has also been observed and put to use in synthetic systems.

Beta hairpin

The beta hairpin is a simple protein structural motif involving two beta strands that look like a hairpin. The motif consists of two strands that are adjacent in primary structure, oriented in an antiparallel direction, and linked by a short loop of two to five amino acids. Beta hairpins can occur in isolation or as part of a series of hydrogen bonded strands that collectively comprise a beta sheet.

Hydrophobic collapse is a proposed process for the production of the 3-D conformation adopted by polypeptides and other molecules in polar solvents. The theory states that the nascent polypeptide forms initial secondary structure creating localized regions of predominantly hydrophobic residues. The polypeptide interacts with water, thus placing thermodynamic pressures on these regions which then aggregate or "collapse" into a tertiary conformation with a hydrophobic core. Incidentally, polar residues interact favourably with water, thus the solvent-facing surface of the peptide is usually composed of predominantly hydrophilic regions.


Thermolysin is a thermostable neutral metalloproteinase enzyme produced by the Gram-positive bacteria Bacillus thermoproteolyticus. It requires one zinc ion for enzyme activity and four calcium ions for structural stability. Thermolysin specifically catalyzes the hydrolysis of peptide bonds containing hydrophobic amino acids. However thermolysin is also widely used for peptide bond formation through the reverse reaction of hydrolysis. Thermolysin is the most stable member of a family of metalloproteinases produced by various Bacillus species. These enzymes are also termed 'neutral' proteinases or thermolysin -like proteinases (TLPs).

Cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs) are short peptides that facilitate cellular intake and uptake of molecules ranging from nanosize particles to small chemical compounds to large fragments of DNA. The "cargo" is associated with the peptides either through chemical linkage via covalent bonds or through non-covalent interactions.

Folding (chemistry)

In chemistry, folding is the process by which a molecule assumes its shape or conformation. The process can also be described as intramolecular self-assembly, a type of molecular self-assembly, where the molecule is directed to form a specific shape through noncovalent interactions, such as hydrogen bonding, metal coordination, hydrophobic forces, van der Waals forces, pi-pi interactions, and/or electrostatic effects.

A halogen bond occurs when there is evidence of a net attractive interaction between an electrophilic region associated with a halogen atom in a molecular entity and a nucleophilic region in another, or the same, molecular entity.

Self-assembling peptides are a category of peptides which undergo spontaneous assembling into ordered nanostructures. Originally described in 1993, these designer peptides have attracted interest in the field of nanotechnology for their potential for application in areas such as biomedical nanotechnology, tissue cell culturing, molecular electronics, and more.

Hydrogen-bond catalysis

Hydrogen-bond catalysis is a type of organocatalysis that relies on use of hydrogen bonding interactions to accelerate and control organic reactions. In biological systems, hydrogen bonding plays a key role in many enzymatic reactions, both in orienting the substrate molecules and lowering barriers to reaction. However, chemists have only recently attempted to harness the power of using hydrogen bonds to perform catalysis, and the field is relatively undeveloped compared to research in Lewis acid catalysis.

Stapled peptide

A stapled peptide is a short peptide, typically in an alpha-helical conformation, that is constrained by a synthetic brace ("staple"). The staple is formed by a covalent linkage between two amino acid side-chains, forming a peptide macrocycle. Staples, generally speaking, refer to a covalent linkage of two previously independent entities. Peptides with multiple, tandem staples are sometimes referred to as stitched peptides. Among other applications, peptide stapling is notably used to enhance the pharmacologic performance of peptides.

A chalcogen bond is an attractive interaction in the family of σ-hole interactions, along with hydrogen bonds and halogen bonds. This family of attractive interactions has been modeled as an electron donor interacting with the σ* orbital of a C-X bond. Electron density mapping is often invoked to visualize the electron density of the donor and an electrophilic region on the acceptor, referred to as a σ-hole. Chalcogen bonds, much like hydrogen and halogen bonds, have been invoked in various non-covalent interactions, such as protein folding, crystal engineering, self-assembly, catalysis, transport, sensing, templation, and drug design.


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  4. Green, M. M.; Park, J.; Sato, T.; Teramoto, A.; Lifson, S.; Selinger, R. L. B.; Selinger, J. V. (1999). "The Macromolecular Route to Chiral Amplification". Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 38 (21): 3138–3154. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1521-3773(19991102)38:21<3138::AID-ANIE3138>3.0.CO;2-C.
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Further reading


  1. ^ Gellman, S.H. (1998). "Foldamers: a manifesto" (PDF). Acc. Chem. Res. 31 (4): 173–180. doi:10.1021/ar960298r. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-05-13.
  2. ^ Zhang DW, Zhao X, Hou JL, Li ZT (2012). "Aromatic Amide Foldamers: Structures, Properties, and Functions". Chem. Rev. 112 (10): 5271–5316. doi:10.1021/cr300116k. PMID   22871167.
  3. ^ Juwarker, H.; Jeong, K-S. (2010). "Anion-controlled foldamers". Chem. Soc. Rev. 39 (10): 3664–3674. doi:10.1039/b926162c. PMID   20730154.