Relating the Surface Properties of Superparamagnetic Iron Oxide Nanoparticles (SPIONs) to Their Bactericidal Effect towards a Biofilm of Streptococcus mutans

PLoS One. 2016 Apr 26;11(4):e0154445. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154445. eCollection 2016.


This study was designed to determine the effects of superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) on the biological activity of a bacterial biofilm (Streptococcus mutans). Our hypothesis was that the diffusion of the SPIONs into biofilms would depend on their surface properties, which in turn would largely be determined by their surface functionality. Bare, positively charged and negatively charged SPIONs, with hydrodynamic diameters of 14.6 ± 1.4 nm, 20.4 ± 1.3 nm and 21.2 ± 1.6 nm were evaluated. Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) and electrophoretic mobility (EPM) measurements were used to confirm that carboxylic functional groups predominated on the negatively charged SPIONS, whereas amine functional groups predominated on the positively charged particles. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) showed the morphology and sizes of SPIONs. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and EPM measurements indicated that the surfaces of the SPIONs were covered with biomolecules following their incubation with the biofilm. Bare SPIONs killed bacteria less than the positively charged SPIONs at the highest exposure concentrations, but the toxicity of the bare and positively charged SPIONs was the same for lower SPION concentrations. The positively charged SPIONs were more effective in killing bacteria than the negatively charged ones. Nonetheless, electrophoretic mobilities of all three SPIONs (negative, bare and positively charged) became more negative following incubation with the (negatively-charged) biofilm. Therefore, while the surface charge of SPIONS was important in determining their biological activity, the initial surface charge was not constant in the presence of the biofilm, leading eventually to SPIONS with fairly similar surface charges in situ. The study nonetheless suggests that the surface characteristics of the SPIONS is an important parameter controlling the efficiency of antimicrobial agents. The analysis of the CFU/mL values shows that the SPIONs have the same toxicity on bacteria in solution in comparison with that on the biofilm.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemical synthesis
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Biofilms / drug effects*
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Diffusion
  • Ethylenediamines / chemistry
  • Ferric Compounds / chemistry
  • Ferric Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles / ultrastructure
  • Plankton / drug effects
  • Plankton / growth & development
  • Static Electricity
  • Streptococcus mutans / drug effects*
  • Streptococcus mutans / physiology
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Succinates / chemistry
  • Surface Properties


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Ethylenediamines
  • Ferric Compounds
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles
  • Succinates
  • ferric oxide

Grant support

The authors received no specific funding for this work.