Short peptides are uniquely versatile building blocks for self-assembly. Supramolecular peptide assemblies can be used to construct functional hydrogel biomaterials—an attractive approach for neural tissue engineering. Here, we report a new class of short, five-residue peptides that form hydrogels with nanofiber structures. Using rheology and spectroscopy, we describe how sequence variations, pH, and peptide concentration alter the mechanical properties of our pentapeptide hydrogels. We find that this class of seven unmodified peptides forms robust hydrogels from 0.2–20 kPa at low weight percent (less than 3 wt. %) in cell culture media, and undergoes shear-thinning and rapid self-healing. The peptides self-assemble into long fibrils with sequence-dependent fibrillar morphologies. These fibrils exhibit a unique twisted ribbon shape, as visualized by TEM and Cryo-EM imaging, with diameters in the low tens of nanometers and periodicities similar to amyloid fibrils. Experimental gelation behavior corroborates our molecular dynamics simulations, which demonstrate peptide assembly behavior, an increase in β-sheet content, and patterns of variation in solvent accessibility. Our Rapidly Assembling Pentapeptides for Injectable Delivery (RAPID) hydrogels are syringe-injectable and support cytocompatible encapsulation of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), as well as their proliferation and three-dimensional process extension. Furthermore, RAPID gels protect OPCs from mechanical membrane disruption and acute loss of viability when ejected from a syringe needle, highlighting the protective capability of the hydrogel as potential cell carriers for transplantation therapies. The tunable mechanical and structural properties of these supramolecular assemblies are shown to be permissive to cell expansion and remodeling, making this hydrogel system suitable as an injectable material for cell delivery and tissue engineering applications.
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