Nanoparticle–Protein Interactions: A Thermodynamic and Kinetic Study of the Adsorption of Bovine Serum Albumin to Gold Nanoparticle Surfaces

Investigating the adsorption process of proteins on nanoparticle surfaces is essential to understand how to control the biological interactions of functionalized nanoparticles. In this work, a library of spherical and rod-shaped gold nanoparticles (GNPs) was used to evaluate the process of protein adsorption to their surfaces. The binding of a model protein (bovine serum albumin, BSA) to GNPs as a function of particle shape, size, and surface charge was investigated. Two independent comparative analytical methods were used to evaluate the adsorption process: steady-state fluorescence quenching titration and affinity capillary electrophoresis (ACE). Although under favorable electrostatic conditions kinetic analysis showed a faster adsorption of BSA to the surface of cationic GNPs, equilibrium binding constant determinations indicated that BSA has a comparable binding affinity to all of the GNPs tested, regardless of surface charge. BSA was even found to adsorb strongly to GNPs with a pegylated/neutral surface. However, these fluorescence titrations suffer from significant interference from the strong light absorption of the GNPs. The BSA–GNP equilibrium binding constants, as determined by the ACE method, were 105 times lower than values determined using spectroscopic titrations. While both analytical methods could be suitable to determine the binding constants for protein adsorption to NP surfaces, both methods have limitations that complicate the determination of protein–GNP binding constants. The optical properties of GNPs interfere with Ka determinations by static fluorescence quenching analysis. ACE, in contrast, suffers from material compatibility issues, as positively charged GNPs adhere to the walls of the capillary during analysis. Researchers seeking to determine equilibrium binding constants for protein–GNP interactions should therefore utilize as many orthogonal techniques as possible to study a protein–GNP system.