Size-Dependent Protein-Nanoparticle Interactions in Citrate-Stabilized Gold Nanoparticles: The Emergence of the Protein Corona.

Piella J, Bastús NG, Puntes V.
Bioconjug Chem. 2017 Jan 18;28(1):88-97. doi: 10.1021/acs.bioconjchem.6b00575. Epub 2016 Dec 20.


Surface modifications of highly monodisperse citrate-stabilized gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) with sizes ranging from 3.5 to 150 nm after their exposure to cell culture media supplemented with fetal bovine serum were studied and characterized by the combined use of UV-vis spectroscopy, dynamic light scattering, and zeta potential measurements. In all the tested AuNPs, a dynamic process of protein adsorption was observed, evolving toward the formation of an irreversible hard protein coating known as Protein Corona. Interestingly, the thickness and density of this protein coating were strongly dependent on the particle size, making it possible to identify different transition regimes as the size of the particles increased: (i) NP-protein complexes (or incomplete corona), (ii) the formation of a near-single dense protein corona layer, and (iii) the formation of a multilayer corona. In addition, the different temporal patterns in the evolution of the protein coating came about more quickly for small particles than for the larger ones, further revealing the significant role that size plays in the kinetics of this process. Since the biological identity of the NPs is ultimately determined by the protein corona and different NP-biological interactions take place at different time scales, these results are relevant to biological and toxicological studies.