pH-switchable, self-assembling materials are of interest in biological imaging and sensing applications. Here we propose that combining the pH-switchability of RXDX (X=Ala, Val, Leu, Ile, Phe) peptides and the optical properties of coumarin creates an ideal candidate for these materials. This suggestion is tested with a thorough set of all-atom molecular dynamics simulations. We first investigate the dependence of pH-switchabiliy on the identity of the hydrophobic residue, X, in the bare (RXDX)4 systems. Increasing the hydrophobicity stabilizes the fiber which, in turn, reduces the pH-switchabilty of the system. This behavior is found to be somewhat transferable to systems in which a single hydrophobic residue is replaced with a coumarin containing amino acid. In this case, conjugates with X=Ala are found to be unstable and both pHs while conjugates with X=Val, Leu, Ile and Phe are found to form stable β-sheets at least at neutral pH. The (RFDF)4-coumarin conjugate is found to have the largest relative entropy value of 0.884 +/- 0.001 between neutral and acidic coumarin ordering distributions. Thus, we posit that coumarin-(RFDF)4 containing peptide sequences are ideal candidates for pH-sensing bioelectronic materials.
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