Mass spectrometric approach for the analysis of the hard protein corona of nanoparticles in living cells

J Proteomics. 2020 Feb 10;212:103582. doi: 10.1016/j.jprot.2019.103582. Epub 2019 Nov 12.


The diagnostic and therapeutic application of nanoparticles requires comprehensive knowledge of their interaction with the biomolecular surroundings. The formation of the protein corona on nanoparticles that were internalized by living cells is yet to be understood. In this study, we present a robust approach for the electrophoretic and mass spectrometric analysis of the hard protein corona composition formed in living cells on ~30 nm citrate-stabilized gold nanoparticles, i.e., the proteins with the highest affinity towards the gold nanoparticle surface. The gold nanoparticles were internalized by MCF-7 cells for 24 h followed by the extraction of the hard protein corona‑gold nanoparticle bioconjugates from living cell cultures. The extracted proteins were then separated by sodium dodecyl sulfate-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (SDS-PAGE) and analyzed by ESI-Q-TOF-MS, which allowed to identify 108 hard corona proteins. The experiments were repeated with J774 macrophage cells with incubation times of 1.5 h, 3 h, 6 h, and 24 h, and the results showed that the hard protein corona remained unchanged over time. Therefore, the proposed experimental approach proved to be a valuable tool for identifying hard corona proteins of nanoparticles internalized by living cells.

Keywords: Hard protein corona; LC-ESI-Q-TOF-MS; MCF-7 and J774 cells; Metallic nanoparticles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Female
  • Gold / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / pathology*
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods*
  • Metal Nanoparticles / analysis*
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Mice
  • Protein Corona / analysis*
  • Protein Corona / chemistry


  • Protein Corona
  • Gold