Corona of thorns: the surface chemistry-mediated protein corona perturbs the recognition and immune response of macrophages

Rong Cai, Jiayu Ren, Yinglu Ji, Yaling Wang, Ying Liu, Zhiqiang Chen, Zeinab Farhadi Sabet, Xiaochun Wu, Iseult Lynch, Chunying Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


The significance of protein coronas on the biological fates of nanoparticles has been widely recognized. Therefore, the alterations on biological effects caused by protein coronas need systemic study and interpretation to design novel safe and efficient nanomedicines. In the present study, we present a comprehensive quantitative analysis of the protein coronas on gold nanorods modified with various surface ligands of different chemical compositions and charges. The design of surface ligands is of utmost importance for the functionalization of nanoparticles, and further, the ligand-induced biological identity determines the fate of nanoparticles in the human body. We found that the surface chemistry influences the composition of the protein corona more profoundly than surface charge. Since the first and most important challenge for administrated nanomedicines is navigating the interaction with macrophages, we further investigated how the surface chemistry-induced specific protein corona affects the phagocytosis and immune responses of macrophages exposed to the corona–nanoparticle complexes. Our results reveal that the protein corona alters the internalization pathways of gold nanorods by macrophages via the interactions of the predominant coronal proteins with specific receptors on the cell membrane. The cytokine secretion profile of macrophages is also highly dependent on the adsorption pattern of the protein corona. The more abundant proteins involved in immune responses, such as acute phase, complement, and tissue leakage proteins, present in the acquired nanoparticle corona, the more macrophage interleukin-1β (IL-1β) released is stimulated. The ligand–protein corona composition-immune response coefficient analysis may serve next-generation nanomedicines with high efficiency and good safety for better clinical translation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1997-2008
Number of pages12
JournalACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
Issue number2
Early online date23 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2020


  • protein corona
  • macrophage recognition
  • immune response
  • gold nanorods
  • surface chemistry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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