Structure of soft and hard protein corona around polystyrene nanoplastics-Particle size and protein types

Shinji Kihara, Sunandita Ghosh, Daniel R. McDougall, Andrew E. Whitten, Jitendra P. Mata, Ingo Köper, Duncan J. McGillivray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
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A major challenge in understanding nanoplastic toxicity (or nanoparticles in general) lies in establishing the causal relationships between its physical properties and biological impact. This difficulty can be attributed to surface alterations that follow the formation of a biological complex around the nanoplastic, as exemplified by protein coronae. The protein corona is known to be responsible for the biological response elicited, although its own structure and attributes remain unknown. We approach this knowledge gap by independently studying the structure of soft and hard coronae using neutron scattering techniques. We investigated the formation and the structure of corona proteins (human serum albumin and lysozyme) and the resulting protein corona complexes with polystyrene nanoplastics of different sizes (20 and 200 nm) and charges. Soft corona complexes (regardless of protein type) adopted a structure where the nanoplastics were surrounded by a loose protein layer (∼2-3 protein molecules thick). Hard corona complexes formed fractal-like aggregates, and the morphology of which is known to be harmful to cellular membranes. In most cases, hard-corona coated nanoplastics also formed fractal-like aggregates in solution. Nanoplastic size affected the structures of both the protein corona and the intrinsic protein: more significant conformational change was observed in the hard corona proteins around smaller nanoparticles compared to larger ones, as the self-association forces holding the nanoplastic/protein complex together were stronger. This also implies that protein-dependent biochemical processes are more likely to be disrupted by smaller polystyrene nanoplastics, rather than larger ones.

Original languageEnglish
Article number051002
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2020


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