Variability of Complement Response toward Preclinical and Clinical Nanocarriers in the General Population

Bioconjug Chem. 2017 Nov 15;28(11):2747-2755. doi: 10.1021/acs.bioconjchem.7b00496. Epub 2017 Nov 1.


Opsonization (coating) of nanoparticles with complement C3 component is an important mechanism that triggers immune clearance and downstream anaphylactic and proinflammatory responses. The variability of complement C3 binding to nanoparticles in the general population has not been studied. We examined complement C3 binding to dextran superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoworms, SPIO NWs, 58 and 110 nm) and clinically approved nanoparticles (carboxymethyl dextran iron oxide ferumoxytol (Feraheme, 28 nm), highly PEGylated liposomal doxorubicin (LipoDox, 88 nm), and minimally PEGylated liposomal irinotecan (Onivyde, 120 nm)) in sera from healthy human individuals. SPIO NWs had the highest variation in C3 binding (n = 47) between subjects, with a 15-30 fold range in levels of C3. LipoDox (n = 12) and Feraheme (n = 18) had the lowest levels of variation between subjects (an approximately 1.5-fold range), whereas Onivyde (n = 18) had intermediate between-subject variation (2-fold range). There was no statistical difference between males and females and no correlation with age. There was a significant correlation in complement response between small and large SPIO NWs, which are similar structurally and chemically, but the correlations between SPIO NWs and other types of nanoparticles, and between LipoDox and Onivyde, were not significant. The calculated average number of C3 molecules bound per nanoparticle correlated with the hydrodynamic diameter but was decreased in LipoDox, likely due to the PEG coating. The conclusions of this study are (1) all nanoparticles show variability of C3 opsonization in the general population; (2) an individual's response toward one nanoparticle cannot be reliably predicted based on another nanoparticle; and (3) the average number of C3 molecules per nanoparticle depends on size and surface coating. These results provide new strategies to improve nanomedicine safety.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / immunology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic / administration & dosage
  • Camptothecin / administration & dosage
  • Camptothecin / analogs & derivatives
  • Complement Activation
  • Complement C3 / immunology*
  • Dextrans / immunology*
  • Doxorubicin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Doxorubicin / immunology
  • Female
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Irinotecan
  • Liposomes / immunology*
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Surface Properties


  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Phytogenic
  • C3 protein, human
  • Complement C3
  • Dextrans
  • Liposomes
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles
  • liposomal doxorubicin
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Irinotecan
  • Doxorubicin
  • carboxymethyl dextran
  • ferumoxides
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide
  • Camptothecin