Relation Between Local Structure, Electric Dipole and Charge Carrier Dynamics in DHICA Melanin, a Model for Biocompatible Semiconductors

Eumelanins are a family of natural and synthetic pigments obtained by oxidative polymerization of their natural precursors: 5,6 dihydroxyindole and its 2-carboxy derivative (DHICA). The simultaneous presence of ionic and electronic charge carriers makes these pigments promising materials for applications in bioelectronics. In this computational study we build a structural model of DHICA melanin considering the interplay between its many degrees of freedom, then we examine the electronic structure of representative oligomers. We find that a non-vanishing dipole along the polymer chain sets this system apart from conventional polymer semiconductors, determining its electronic structure, reactivity toward oxidation and localization of the charge carriers. Our work sheds light on previously unnoticed features of DHICA melanin that not only fit well with its radical scavenging and photoprotective properties, but open new perspectives towards understanding and tuning charge transport in this class of materials.