Surface chemistry of gold nanorods: Origin of cell membrane damage and cytotoxicity

Liming Wang, Xiumei Jiang, Yinglu Ji, Ru Bai, Yuliang Zhao, Xiaochun Wu, Chunying Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

144 Scopus citations


We investigated how surface chemistry influences the interaction between gold nanorods (AuNRs) and cell membranes and the subsequent cytotoxicity arising from them in a serum-free cell culture system. Our results showed that the AuNRs coated with cetyl trimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) molecules can generate defects in the cell membrane and induce cell death, mainly due to the unique bilayer structure of CTAB molecules on the surface of the rods rather than their charge. Compared to CTAB-capped nanorods, positively charged polyelectrolyte-coated, i.e. poly(diallyldimethyl ammonium chloride) (PDDAC), AuNRs show improved biocompatibility towards cells. Thus, the present results indicate that the nature of surface molecules, especially their packing structures on the surface of AuNRs rather than surface charge, play a more crucial role in determining cytotoxicity. These findings about interfacial interactions could also explain the effects of internalized AuNRs on the structures or functions of organelles. This study will help understanding of the toxic nature of AuNRs and guide rational design of the surface chemistry of AuNRs for good biocompatibility in pharmaceutical therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8384-8391
Number of pages8
Issue number18
StatePublished - Sep 21 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)


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