Lipid bilayers are biomembranes common to cellular life and constitute a continuous barrier between cells and their environment. Understanding the interaction of nanoparticles with lipid bilayers is an important step toward predicting subsequent biological effects. In this study, we assessed the affinity of functionalized gold nanoparticles (Au NPs) with sizes from 5 to 100 nm to lipid bilayers by determining the Au NP distribution between aqueous electrolytes and lipid bilayers. The Au NP distribution to lipid bilayers reached an apparent steady state in 24 h with smaller Au NPs distributing onto lipid bilayers more rapidly than larger ones. Au NPs distributed to lipid bilayers to a larger extent at lower pH. Tannic acid-functionalized Au NPs exhibited greater distribution to lipid bilayers than polyvinylpyrrolidone- functionalized Au NPs of the same size. Across the various Au NP sizes, we measure the lipid bilayer-water distribution coefficient (K lipw = C lip/C w) as 450 L/kg lipid, which is independent of dosimetric units. This work suggests that the nanoparticle-cell membrane interaction is dependent on solution chemistry and nanoparticle surface functionality. The K lipw value may be used to predict the affinity of spherical Au NPs across a certain size range toward lipid membranes.
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