A. Koutsioubas, D. Lairez, S. Combet, G. C. Fadda, S. Longeville, and G. Zalczer
We report circular dichroism measurements on the helix-coil transition of poly(L-glutamic acid) in solution with polyethylene glycol (PEG) as a crowding agent. The PEG solutions have been characterized by small angle neutron scattering and are well described by the picture of a network of mesh size ξ, usual for semi-dilute chains in good solvent. We show that the increase of PEG concentration stabilizes the helices and increases the transition temperature. But more unexpectedly, we also notice that the increase of concentration of crowding agent reduces the mean helix extent at the transition, or in other words reduces its cooperativity. This result cannot be taken into account for by an entropic stabilization mechanism. Comparing the mean length of helices at the transition and the mesh size of the PEG network, our results strongly suggest two regimes: helices shorter or longer than the mesh size.