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Size and surface functionalization of iron oxide nanoparticles influence the composition and dynamic nature of their protein corona.

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Nanoparticles (NPs) adsorb proteins when in the biological matrix, and the resulted protein corona could affect NP-cell interactions. The corona has a dynamic nature with the adsorbed proteins constantly exchanging with the free proteins in the matrix at various rates. The rapidly exchanging proteins compose the soft corona, which responds more dynamically to environment changes than the hard corona established by the ones with slow exchange rates. In the present study, the corona formed on the superparamagnetic iron oxide NPs (SPIONs) in human serum was studied by flow field-flow fractionation and ultracentrifugation, which rapidly differentiated the corona proteins based on their exchange rates. By varying the surface hydrophobicity of the SPIONs with a core size around 10 nm, we found out that, the more hydrophobic surface ligand attracted proteins with higher surface hydrophobicity and formed a more dynamic corona with a larger portion of the involved proteins with fast exchange rates. Increasing the core diameter of the SPIONs but keeping the surface ligand the same could also result in a more dynamic corona. A brief investigation of the effect on the cellular uptake of SPIONs using one selected corona protein, transferrin, was conducted. The result showed that, only the stably bound transferrin could significantly enhance cellular uptake, while transferrin bound in a dynamic nature had negligible impact. Our study has led to a better understanding of the relationship between the particle properties and the dynamic nature of the corona, which can help with design of nanomaterials with higher biocompatibility and higher efficacy in biosystems for biomedical applications.

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