BiomaterialsNature Collection

Nanocrystal facet modulation to enhance transferrin binding and cellular delivery

Abstract: Binding of biomolecules to crystal surfaces is critical for effective biological applications of crystalline nanomaterials. Here, we present the modulation of exposed crystal facets as a feasible approach to enhance specific nanocrystal–biomolecule associations for improving cellular targeting and nanomaterial uptake. We demonstrate that facet-engineering significantly enhances transferrin binding to cadmium chalcogenide nanocrystals and their subsequent delivery into cancer cells, mediated by transferrin receptors, in a complex biological matrix. Competitive adsorption experiments coupled with theoretical calculations reveal that the (100) facet of cadmoselite and (002) facet of greenockite preferentially bind with transferrin via inner-sphere thiol complexation. Molecular dynamics simulation infers that facet-dependent transferrin binding is also induced by the differential affinity of crystal facets to water molecules in the first solvation shell, which affects access to exposed facets. Overall, this research underlines the promise of facet engineering to improve the efficacy of crystalline nanomaterials in biological applications.

Nature Communications volume 11, Article number: 1262 (2020)

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