In this paper, which is part of a collection in honour of Noel Clark's remarkable career on liquid crystal (LC) and soft matter research, we present examples of biologically inspired systems, which form LC phases with their LC nature impacting biological function in cells or being important in biomedical applications. One area focuses on understanding network and bundle formation of cytoskeletal polyampholytes (filamentous actin, microtubules and neurofilaments (NFs)). Here, we describe studies on NFs, the intermediate filaments of neurons, which form open network nematic LC hydrogels in axons. Synchrotron small-angle-X-ray scattering studies of NF protein dilution experiments and NF hydrogels subjected to osmotic stress show that NF networks are stabilised by competing long-range repulsion and attractions mediated by the NF's polyampholytic sidearms. The attractions are present both at very large inter-filament spacings, in the weak sidearm-interpenetrating regime, and at smaller inter-filament spacings, in the strong sidearm-interpenetrating regime. A second series of experiments will describe the structure and properties of cationic liposomes (CLs) complexed with nucleic acids (NAs). CL-NA complexes form liquid crystalline phases, which interact in a structure-dependent manner with cellular membranes enabling the design of complexes for efficient delivery of NA (DNA and RNA) in therapeutic applications.
- gyroid cubic phases
- hexagonal liquid crystals
- lamellar liquid crystals
- nematic hydrogels
- small-angle-X-ray scattering (SAXS)