Quantitative analysis of PEG-functionalized colloidal gold nanoparticles using charged aerosol detection

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2015 May;407(13):3705-16. doi: 10.1007/s00216-015-8589-2. Epub 2015 Mar 8.


Surface characteristics of a nanoparticle, such as functionalization with polyethylene glycol (PEG), are critical to understand and achieve optimal biocompatibility. Routine physicochemical characterization such as UV-vis spectroscopy (for gold nanoparticles), dynamic light scattering, and zeta potential are commonly used to assess the presence of PEG. However, these techniques are merely qualitative and are not sensitive enough to distinguish differences in PEG quantity, density, or presentation. As an alternative, two methods are described here which allow for quantitative measurement of PEG on PEGylated gold nanoparticles. The first, a displacement method, utilizes dithiothreitol to displace PEG from the gold surface. The dithiothreitol-coated gold nanoparticles are separated from the mixture via centrifugation, and the excess dithiothreitol and dissociated PEG are separated through reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC). The second, a dissolution method, utilizes potassium cyanide to dissolve the gold nanoparticles and liberate PEG. Excess CN(-), Au(CN)2 (-), and free PEG are separated using RP-HPLC. In both techniques, the free PEG can be quantified against a standard curve using charged aerosol detection. The displacement and dissolution methods are validated here using 2-, 5-, 10-, and 20-kDa PEGylated 30-nm colloidal gold nanoparticles. Further value in these techniques is demonstrated not only by quantitating the total PEG fraction but also by being able to be adapted to quantitate the free unbound PEG and the bound PEG fractions. This is an important distinction, as differences in the bound and unbound PEG fractions can affect biocompatibility, which would not be detected in techniques that only quantitate the total PEG fraction.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / analysis*
  • Aerosols / chemistry
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid / methods*
  • Coated Materials, Biocompatible / analysis
  • Coated Materials, Biocompatible / chemistry
  • Colloids / chemistry
  • Gold / analysis*
  • Gold / chemistry
  • Metal Nanoparticles / analysis
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Metal Nanoparticles / ultrastructure
  • Polyethylene Glycols / analysis*
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Static Electricity


  • Aerosols
  • Coated Materials, Biocompatible
  • Colloids
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Gold