Abstract: A set of computational methods that contains a brute-force algorithmic generation of chemical isomers, molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, and density functional theory (DFT) calculations is reported and applied to investigate nearly 3000 probable molecular structures of polydopamine (PDA) and eumelanin. All probable early-polymerized 5,6-dihydroxyindole (DHI) oligomers, ranging from dimers to tetramers, have been systematically analyzed to find the most stable geometry connections as well as to propose a set of molecular models that represents the chemically diverse nature of PDA and eumelanin. Our results indicate that more planar oligomers have a tendency to be more stable. This finding is in good agreement with recent experimental observations, which suggested that PDA and eumelanin are composed of nearly planar oligomers that appear to be stacked together via π–π interactions to form graphite-like layered aggregates. We also show that there is a group of tetramers notably more stable than the others, implying that even though there is an inherent chemical diversity in PDA and eumelanin, the molecular structures of the majority of the species are quite repetitive. Our results also suggest that larger oligomers are less likely to form. This observation is also consistent with experimental measurements, supporting the existence of small oligomers instead of large polymers as main components of PDA and eumelanin. In summary, this work brings an insight into the controversial structure of PDA and eumelanin, explaining some of the most important structural features, and providing a set of molecular models for more accurate modeling of eumelanin-like materials.
Full paper: C-T Chen, FJ Martin-Martinez, GS Jung, MJ Buehler, Polydopamine and eumelanin molecular structures investigated with ab initio calculations, Chemical Science, 2016, DOI: 10.1039/C6SC04692D
Movie: Brute-force algorithmic generator creating checkerboard representations of 216 DHI trimers
Movie: Energy minimization to generate an initial molecular structure
Movie: MD simulation to find the most stable geometry