Preclinical studies to understand nanoparticle interaction with the immune system and its potential effects on nanoparticle biodistribution

Mol Pharm. Jul-Aug 2008;5(4):487-95. doi: 10.1021/mp800032f. Epub 2008 May 30.


Nanoparticles have unique physicochemical properties which make them promising platforms for drug delivery. However, immune cells in the bloodstream (such as monocytes, platelets, leukocytes, and dendritic cells) and in tissues (such as resident phagocytes) have a propensity to engulf and eliminate certain nanoparticles. A nanoparticle's interaction with plasma proteins (opsonins) and blood components (via hemolysis, thrombogenicity and complement activation) may influence uptake and clearance and hence potentially affect distribution and delivery to the intended target sites. Nanoparticle uptake by the immune cells is influenced by many factors. Different nanoparticles have been shown to act on different pathways, while various characteristics/properties also affect which pathway is employed for particle internalization. Nanoparticle protein binding occurs almost instantaneously once the particle enters biological medium, and the physical properties of such a particle-protein complex are often different than those of the formulated particle. These new properties can contribute to different biological responses and change nanoparticle biodistribution. Therefore, in the situation when specific delivery to immune cells is not desired, the ideal nanoparticle platform is the one whose integrity is not disturbed in the complex biological environment, which provides extended circulation in the blood to maximize delivery to the target site, is not toxic to blood cellular components, and is "invisible" to the immune cells which can remove it from circulation. This review discusses the most recent data on nanoparticle interactions with blood components and how particle size and surface charge define their hematocompatibility. This includes properties which determine particle interaction with plasma proteins and uptake by macrophages. We will also provide an overview of in vitro methods useful in identifying interactions with components of the immune system and the potential effects of such interaction on particle distribution to tissues.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Humans
  • Immune System / immunology*
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Nanomedicine
  • Nanoparticles* / ultrastructure
  • Tissue Distribution