Tracing the In Vivo Fate of Nanoparticles with a "Non-Self" Biological Identity

ACS Nano. 2020 Aug 25;14(8):10666-10679. doi: 10.1021/acsnano.0c05178. Epub 2020 Aug 12.


Nanoparticles can acquire a biomolecular corona with a species-specific biological identity. However, "non-self" incompatibility of recipient biological systems is often not considered, for example, when rodents are used as a model organism for preclinical studies of biomolecule-inspired nanomedicines. Using zebrafish embryos as an emerging model for nanobioimaging, here we unravel the in vivo fate of intravenously injected 70 nm SiO2 nanoparticles with a protein corona preformed from fetal bovine serum (FBS), representing a non-self biological identity. Strikingly rapid sequestration and endolysosomal acidification of nanoparticles with the preformed FBS corona were observed in scavenger endothelial cells within minutes after injection. This led to loss of blood vessel integrity and to inflammatory activation of macrophages over the course of several hours. As unmodified nanoparticles or the equivalent dose of FBS proteins alone failed to induce the observed pathophysiology, this signifies how the corona enriched with a differential repertoire of proteins can determine the fate of the nanoparticles in vivo. Our findings thus reveal the adverse outcome triggered by incompatible protein coronas and indicate a potential pitfall in the use of mismatched species combinations during nanomedicine development.

Keywords: intravital confocal microscopy; macrophage polarization; nanoparticles; protein corona; transmission electron microscopy (TEM); uptake kinetics; zebrafish embryos.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endothelial Cells
  • Nanoparticles*
  • Protein Corona*
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Zebrafish


  • Protein Corona
  • Silicon Dioxide