The Intracellular Destiny of the Protein Corona: A Study on its Cellular Internalization and Evolution

It has been well established that the early stages of nanoparticle–cell interactions are governed, at least in part, by the layer of proteins and other biomolecules adsorbed and slowly exchanged with the surrounding biological media (biomolecular corona). Subsequent to membrane interactions, nanoparticles are typically internalized into the cell and trafficked along defined pathways such as, in many cases, the endolysosomal pathway. Indeed, if the original corona is partially retained on the nanoparticle surface, the biomolecules in this layer may play an important role in determining subsequent cellular processing. In this work, using a combination of organelle separation and fluorescence labeling of the initial extracellular corona, we clarify its intracellular evolution as nanoparticles travel within the cell. We show that specific proteins present in the original protein corona are retained on the nanoparticles until they accumulate in lysosomes, and, once there, they are degraded. We also report on how different bare surfaces (amino and carboxyl modified) affect the details of this evolution. One overarching discovery is that the same serum proteins can exhibit different intracellular processing when carried inside cells by nanoparticles, as components of their corona, compared to what is observed when they are transported freely from the extracellular medium.