Probing the Separation Distance between Biological Nanoparticles and Cell Membranes Mimics Using Neutron Reflectometry with Sub-Nanometer Accuracy



Nanoparticle interactions with cellular membranes are controlled by molecular recognition reactions and regulate a multitude of biological processes, including virus infections, biological nanoparticle-mediated cellular communication, and drug delivery applications. Aided by the design of various supported cell membrane mimics, multiple methods have been employed to investigate these types of interactions, revealing information on nanoparticle coverage, interaction kinetics as well as binding strength; however, precise quantification of the separation distance across which these delicate interactions occur remains elusive. Here we demonstrate that carefully designed neutron reflectometry experiments combined with intricate theoretical modeling offer a means to quantify the distance separating biological nanoparticles from a supporting lipid bilayer (SLB) with sub-nanometer precision. The distance between the nanoparticles and SLBs was tuned by exploiting either direct adsorption or specific binding using DNA tethers with different conformations, revealing separation distances of around 1, 3, and 7 nm with nanometric accuracy. We also show that NR provides precise information on nanoparticle coverage, size distribution, material composition, and potential structural changes in the underlying planar SLB induced upon nanoparticle binding. The precision with which these parameters could be quantified should pave an attractive path for investigations of the interactions between nanoparticles and interfaces at length scales and resolutions that were previously inaccessible, but crucial for gaining in-depth understanding of the molecular recognition reactions responsible for the interactions between inorganic and biological nanoparticles with cellular membranes.


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Supplementary material

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Supporting infromation
Supporting infromation includes: detailed materials and methods with explanatory figures; tables summarizing the values of all the modeling parameters; figures for results from DLS experiments to characterize the SiO2 NPs, nanoSLBs, and vesicles, preliminary experiments conducted using QCM-D, NR results for the silicon blocks and planar SLBs, overlayed before and after NR data, additional fitting results showing the sensitivity of the results to minor variations in the fitted parameters, schematics showing the difference in binding configuration between the ABCD- and XYWZ-DNA.