Water model determines thermosensitive and physicochemical properties of poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) in molecular simulations

Patrick K. Quoika, Anna S. Kamenik, Monica L. Fernández-Quintero, Martin Zacharias, Klaus R. Liedl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Poly (N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) is a famous representative of thermosensitive polymers. Thermosensitive polymers undergo a phase transition with lower critical solution temperature. Commonly, their phase behavior is linked to a conformational collapse above a certain temperature. This thermosensitive conformational transition is called Coil-Globule transition. In contrast, most other polymers usually show inverse temperature behavior, i.e., an upper critical solution temperature, corresponding to a Globule-Coil transition. Besides their numerous possible applications, thermosensitive polymers are of interest for fundamental research, because of similarities to macromolecular conformational transitions, e.g., protein folding. The counter-intuitive behavior of thermosensitive polymers is commonly associated with solvation effects. Thus, an accurate description of the solvent is crucial for the investigation of thermosensitive polymers in molecular simulations. Here, we investigate the influence of the in silico water model on the thermosensitive Coil-Globule transition in molecular dynamics simulations. To this end, we performed extensive atomistic simulations of the syndiotactic PNIPAM 20-mer at multiple temperatures with eight different water models–four of which are 3-point water models (TIP3P-type) and four are 4-point water models (TIP4P-type). We found that the thermosensitive Coil-Globule transition is strongly influenced by the water model in the simulations. Depending on the water model, the conformational ensemble of the polymer is shifted significantly, which leads to dramatically different results: The estimated transition temperature may span between 255 and 350 K. Consequently, depending on the description of the solvent, the physicochemical and mechanical properties of these polymers, e.g., the polymer-solvent affinity and persistence length, vary. These divergent results originate from the strength of interactions between polymer and solvent, but also on the bulk state of the solvent. Both these quantities vary between water models. We found that the Lennard-Jones interaction parameter ϵ of the water model correlates with the transition temperature of the polymer. Indeed, the quadrupole moment of the water model shows an even higher correlation with this quantity. Our results suggest a connection between the phase diagram of the solvent and the thermosensitive transition of the polymer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1005781
JournalFrontiers in Materials
StatePublished - 19 Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • coil-globule transition
  • in silico water models
  • molecular dynamics simulations
  • solvation thermodynamics
  • thermosensitive polymer


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