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Complexes of polyelectrolyte gels with oppositely charged surfactants form ordered polymer matrices with unique structure properties, which can be used in a wide range of medical, chemical and physical applications. Ordered matrices made of natural components are of special interest for medical and biological purposes. In the present study, self-organised complexes of native ι- and κ-carrageenans formed with oppositely charged cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC) are prepared and structurally characterised using small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS). Starting from the molar ratio CPC/(charge of carrrageenan) of 0.2, the carrageenan gel shrinks and ordered motifs in its internal structure are formed. The internal order in the sample is reflected by the Bragg peaks in the scattering patterns which permit to compute periodicity and characteristic sizes of the ordered regions. Moreover, strong central scattering appears and the calculated fractal dimensions indicate that these regions are organised in well defined clusters. The periodicity of the ordered motifs computed from the Bragg peaks in the scattering patterns corresponds to the width of the surfactant bilayer (about 4.0 nm) for all the complexes. The crystallite size ranges from 25 nm to 40 nm depending on the type of carrageenan and on the amount of CPC. A model of the ordered fragments is proposed whereby the carrageenan/surfactant bilayers are regularly packed at the walls of hollow cylindric clusters with the outer radius of about 8 nm and height 40 nm. More detailed ab initio models indicate that these particles are formed by bent worm-like substructures with the cross-section coinciding to the thickness of the carrageenan/CPC bilayer. Thanks to a higher charge density per monomer, ι-carrageenans form more regular structures than κ-carrageenans.

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