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Publication Date




Publication Title

Chemical Research in Toxicology








Nanomaterials possess unusually high surface area-to-volume ratios and surface-determined physicochemical properties. It is essential to understand their surface-dependent toxicity in order to rationally design biocompatible nanomaterials for a wide variety of applications. In this study, we have functionalized the surfaces of silver nanoparticles (Ag NPs, 11.7 ±+2.7 nm in diameter) with three biocompatible peptides (CALNNK, CALNNS, CALNNE) to prepare positively (Ag-CALNNK NPs), negatively (Ag-CALNNS NPs−2ζ), and more negatively charged NPs (Ag-CALNNE NPs−4ζ), respectively. Each peptide differs in a single amino acid at its C-terminus, which minimizes the effects of peptide sequences and serves as a model molecule to create positive, neutral, and negative charges on the surface of the NPs at pH 4-10. We have studied their charge-dependent transport into early developing (cleavage-stage) zebrafish embryos and their effects on embryonic development using dark-field optical microscopy and spectroscopy (DFOMS). We found that all three Ag-peptide NPs passively diffused into the embryos via their chorionic pore canals, and stayed inside the embryos throughout their entire development (120 h), showing charge-independent diffusion modes and charge-dependent diffusion coefficients. Notably, the NPs create chargedependent toxic effects on embryonic development, showing that the Ag-CALNNK NPs (positively charged) are the most biocompatible while the Ag-CALNNE NPs−4ζ (more negatively charged) are the most toxic. By comparing with our previous studies of the same sized citrated Ag and Au NPs, the Ag-peptide NPs are much more biocompatible than the citrated Ag NPs, and nearly as biocompatible as the Au NPs, showing the dependence of nanotoxicity upon the surface charges, surface functional groups, and chemical compositions of the NPs. This study also demonstrates powerful applications of single NP plasmonic spectroscopy for quantitative analysis of single NPs in vivo and in tissues, and reveals the possibility of rational design of biocompatible NPs.

Original Publication Citation

Lee, K. J., Browning, L. M., Nallathamby, P. D., & Xu, X. H. N. (2013). Study of charge-dependent transport and toxicity of peptide-functionalized silver nanoparticles using zebrafish embryos and single nanoparticle plasmonic spectroscopy. Chemical Research in Toxicology, 26(6), 904-917. doi:10.1021/tx400087d


0000-0003-2231-5487 (Browning), 0000-0001-5064-294X (Nallathamby), 0000-0002-7470-1948 (Xu)