Despite extensive use of micelles in materials and colloidal science, their supramolecular organization as well as host-guest interactions within these dynamic assemblies are poorly understood. Small guest molecules in the presence of micelles undergo constant exchange between a micellar aggregate and the surrounding solution, posing a considerable challenge for their molecular level characterisation. In this work we reveal the interaction maps between small guest molecules and surfactants forming micelles via novel applications of NMR techniques supported with state-of-the-art analytical methods used in colloidal science. Model micelles composed of structurally distinct surfactants (block non-ionic polymer Pluronic® F-127, non-ionic surfactant Tween 20 or Tween 80 and ionic surfactant SLS, sodium lauryl sulphate) were selected and loaded with model small molecules of biochemical relevance (i.e. the drugs fluconazole, FLU or indomethacin, IMC) known to have different partition coefficients. Molecular level organization of FLU or IMC within hydrophilic and hydrophobic domains of micellar aggregates was established using combination of NMR methods (1D 1H NMR, 1D 19F NMR, 2D 1H-1H NOESY and 2D 1H-19F HOESY, and the multifrequency-STD NMR) and corroborated with molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. This is the first application of multifrequency-STD NMR to colloidal systems, enabling us to elucidate intricately detailed patterns of drug/micelle interactions in a single NMR experiment within minutes. Importantly, our results indicate that flexible surfactants, such as block copolymers and polysorbates, form micellar aggregates with a surface composed of both hydrophilic and hydrophobic domains and do not follow the classical core-shell model of the micelle. We propose that the magnitude of the changes in 1H chemical shifts corroborated with interaction maps obtained from DEEP-STD NMR and 2D NMR experiments can be used as an indicator of the strength of the guest-surfactant interactions. This NMR toolbox can be adopted for the analysis of broad range colloidal host-guest systems from soft materials to biological systems.
Electronic Supplementary information for Unravelling the mechanisms of small molecules partitioning phenomena in micellar systems via multifrequency-STD NMR spectroscopy