• A. Tagliabue, C. Micheletti and M. Mella
    Effect of Counterion Size on Knotted Polyelectrolyte Conformations
    J. Phys. Chem. B 128 4183-4194 (2024)
    Link to online article

  • Abstract
    Using Langevin dynamics simulations and a coarse-grained primitive model of electrolytes, we show that the behavior of knotted circular strong polyelectrolytes (PEs) in diluted aqueous solution is largely affected by the diameter of their counterions (CIs), $\sigmaCI$. Indeed, we observe that both gyration radius and knot length vary non-monotonically with $\sigmaCI$, with both small and bulky CIs favoring knot localization, while medium-sized ones promote delocalized knots. We also show that the conformational change from delocalized to tight knot occurs via the progressive coalescence of the knot's essential crossings. The emerging conformers correspond to the minima of the free energy landscape profiled as a function of knot length or PE size. We demonstrate that different conformational states can coexist, the transition between them appearing first-order-like and controlled by the enthalpic and entropic tradeoff of the amount of CIs condensed on the PE. Such balance can be further altered by varying CI concentrations, thus providing an additional and more convenient tuning parameter for the system properties. Our results lay the foundation for achieving broader and more precise external adjustability of knotted PE size and shape by choosing the nature of its CIs. Thus, they offer new intriguing possibilities for designing novel PE-based materials capable of responding to changes in ionic solution properties.