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We have studied how primitive hydrophobic interactions between two or more small nonpolar solutes are affected by the presence of surfaces. We show that the desolvation barriers present in the potential of mean force between the solutes in bulk water are significantly reduced near an extended hydrophobic surface. Correspondingly, the kinetics of hydrophobic contact formation and breakage are faster near a hydrophobic surface than near a hydrophilic surface or in the bulk. We propose that the reduction in the desolvation barrier is a consequence of the fact that water near extended hydrophobic surfaces is akin to that at a liquid-vapor interface and is easily displaced. We support this proposal with three independent observations. First, when small hydrophobic solutes are brought near a hydrophobic surface, they induce local dewetting, thereby facilitating the reduction of desolvation barriers. Second, our results and those of Patel et al. ( Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2011 , 108 , 17678 - 17683 ) show that, whereas the association of small solutes in bulk water is driven by entropy, that near hydrophobic surfaces is driven by enthalpy, suggesting that the physics of interface deformation is important. Third, moving water away from its vapor-liquid coexistence, by applying hydrostatic pressure, leads to recovery of bulklike signatures (e.g., the presence of a desolvation barrier and an entropic driving force) in the association of solutes. These observations for simple solutes also translate to end-to-end contact formation in a model peptide with hydrophobic end groups, for which lowering of the desolvation barrier and acceleration of contact formation are observed near a hydrophobic surface. Our results suggest that extended hydrophobic surfaces, such as air-water or hydrocarbon-water surfaces, could serve as excellent platforms for catalyzing hydrophobically driven assembly.


Srivathsan Vembanur, Amish J Patel, Sapna Sarupria, Shekhar Garde. On the thermodynamics and kinetics of hydrophobic interactions at interfaces. The journal of physical chemistry. B. 2013 Sep 5;117(35):10261-70

PMID: 23906438

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