Reduced cationic nanoparticle cytotoxicity based on serum masking of surface potential

Kellie I. McConnell, Sabeel Shamsudeen, Ismail M. Meraz, Thiruvillamalai S. Mahadevan, Arturas Ziemys, Paul Rees, Huw D. Summers, Rita E. Serda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Functionalization of nanoparticles with cationic moieties, such as polyethyleneimine (PEI), enhances binding to the cell membrane; however, it also disrupts the integrity of the cell's plasma and vesicular membranes, leading to cell death. Primary fibroblasts were found to display high surface affinity for cationic iron oxide nanoparticles and greater sensitivity than their immortalized counterparts. Treatment of cells with cationic nanoparticles in the presence of incremental increases in serum led to a corresponding linear decrease in cell death. The surface potential of the nanoparticles also decreased linearly as serum increased and this was strongly and inversely correlated with cell death. While low doses of nanoparticles were rendered non-toxic in 25% serum, large doses overcame the toxic threshold. Serum did not reduce nanoparticle association with primary fibroblasts, indicating that the decrease in nanoparticle cytotoxicity was based on serum masking of the PEI surface, rather than decreased exposure. Primary endothelial cells were likewise more sensitive to the cytotoxic effects of cationic nanoparticles than their immortalized counterparts, and this held true for cellular responses to cationic microparticles despite the much lower toxicity of microparticles compared to nanoparticles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-164
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biomedical Nanotechnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2016


  • Cationic nanoparticles
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Endothelia
  • Fibroblasts
  • Iron oxide
  • Opsonization
  • Polyethyleneimine
  • Silica

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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