Probing ensemble polymorphism and single aggregate structural heterogeneity in insulin amyloid self-assembly

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Ensembles of protein aggregates are characterized by a nano- and micro-scale heterogeneity of the species. This diversity translates into a variety of effects that protein aggregates may have in biological systems, both in connection to neurodegenerative diseases and immunogenic risk of protein drug products. Moreover, this naturally occurring variety offers unique opportunities in the field of protein-based biomaterials. In the above-mentioned fields, the isolation and structural analysis of the different amyloid types within the same ensemble remain a priority, still representing a significant experimental challenge. Here we address such complexity in the case of insulin for its relevance as biopharmaceutical and its involvement in insulin-derived amyloidosis. By combining Fourier Transform Infrared Microscopy (micro-FTIR) and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) we show the occurrence, within the same ensemble of insulin protein aggregates, of a variable β-structure architecture and content not only dependent on the species analyzed (spherulites or fibrils), but also on the position within a single spherulite at submicron scale. We unambiguously reveal that the surface of the spherulites are characterized by β-structures with an enhanced H-bond coupling compared to the core. This information, inaccessible via bulk methods, allows us to relate the aggregate structure at molecular level to the overall morphology of the aggregates. Our findings robustly solve the problem of probing the ensemble and single particle heterogeneity of amyloid samples. Furthermore, we offer a unique, scalable and ready-to-use screening methodology for in-depth characterization of self-assembled structures, being this translatable to material sciences, drug quality control and clinical imaging of amyloid-affected tissues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-240
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Publication statusPublished - 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Biomaterials
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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