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ACS Nano. 2017 Apr 25;11(4):4145-4154. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.7b00981. Epub 2017 Mar 21.

Computational Study of the Forces Driving Aggregation of Ultrasmall Nanoparticles in Biological Fluids.

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Center for Molecular Modeling, OIR/CIT, National Institutes of Health, U.S. DHHS , Bethesda, Maryland 20892, United States.


Nanoparticle (NP) aggregation can lead to prolonged retention in tissues or embolism, among other adverse effects. Successful use in biomedicine thus requires the capability to make NPs with limited aggregative potential. Rational design is presently a challenge due to incomplete knowledge of their interactions in biofluids. Recently, ultrasmall gold NPs passivated with endogenous antioxidant glutathione have shown promise for use in vivo. Computer simulations are here conducted to identify the forces underlying aggregation (or lack thereof) of these NPs in a cell culture. Electrostatic interactions are insufficient to induce association, but the van der Waals forces exerted by cations, anions, and net-neutral polar species can promote the formation of stable dimers. The entropic effects of depletion are negligible, but the combined effect of depletion and macromolecular crowding at physiological concentrations can stabilize aggregates containing just a few NPs. Interparticle interactions are controlled by modest changes in both the structure and dynamic of the interfacial liquid. The molecular origin of these effects and their dependence on NP size are described. The liquid is shown to be highly structured, with large and long-lived hydrogen-bonded water clusters developing often in the interparticle space; their potential role as transient, long-range proton wires connecting and enveloping neighboring NPs is discussed. The basis for a parsimonious theory of ultrasmall NPs in complex fluids is established.


crowding effects; depletion forces; nanoparticle aggregation; simulations in biological fluids; ultrasmall nanoparticles

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