Article abstract

Nature Materials 7, 588 - 595 (2008)
Published online: 25 May 2008 | Corrected online: 28 February 2013 | doi:10.1038/nmat2202

There is a Corrigendum (April 2013) associated with this Article.

Subject terms: Biological materials | Biomedical materials

Surface-structure-regulated cell-membrane penetration by monolayer-protected nanoparticles

Ayush Verma1, Oktay Uzun1, Yuhua Hu2, Ying Hu1, Hee-Sun Han3, Nicki Watson4, Suelin Chen1, Darrell J. Irvine1,5 & Francesco Stellacci1

Nanoscale objects are typically internalized by cells into membrane-bounded endosomes and fail to access the cytosolic cell machinery. Whereas some biomacromolecules may penetrate or fuse with cell membranes without overt membrane disruption, no synthetic material of comparable size has shown this property yet. Cationic nano-objects pass through cell membranes by generating transient holes, a process associated with cytotoxicity. Studies aimed at generating cell-penetrating nanomaterials have focused on the effect of size, shape and composition. Here, we compare membrane penetration by two nanoparticle ‘isomers’ with similar composition (same hydrophobic content), one coated with subnanometre striations of alternating anionic and hydrophobic groups, and the other coated with the same moieties but in a random distribution. We show that the former particles penetrate the plasma membrane without bilayer disruption, whereas the latter are mostly trapped in endosomes. Our results offer a paradigm for analysing the fundamental problem of cell-membrane-penetrating bio- and macro-molecules.

  1. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT, Massachusetts 02139, USA
  2. Department of Chemical Engineering, MIT, Massachusetts 02139, USA
  3. Department of Chemistry, MIT, Massachusetts 02139, USA
  4. Department of Biology, MIT, Massachusetts 02139, USA
  5. Department of Biological Engineering, MIT, Massachusetts 02139, USA

Correspondence to: Darrell J. Irvine1,5 e-mail:

Correspondence to: Francesco Stellacci1 e-mail:

* In the version of this Article originally published, in the caption for Fig. 1 the following statement should have been included "Right-hand STM image in panel a reproduced with permission from ref. 30, © 2008 RSC." This error has been corrected in the PDF and HTML versions of the Article.


These links to content published by NPG are automatically generated.


Spontaneous assembly of subnanometre-ordered domains in the ligand shell of monolayer-protected nanoparticles

Nature Materials Article (01 May 2004)

Supplementary Information

Nature Materials Article (01 Dec 2009)

Supplementary Information

Nature Materials Article (01 Jan 2010)