Ultrasmall Gold Nanoparticles Coated with Zwitterionic Glutathione Monoethyl Ester: A Model Platform for the Incorporation of Functional Peptides

Ultrasmall gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) are an emerging class of nanomaterials exhibiting distinctive physicochemical, molecular, and in vivo properties. Recently, we showed that ultrasmall AuNPs encompassing a zwitterionic glutathione monoethyl ester surface coating (AuGSHzwt) were highly resistant to aggregation and serum protein interactions. Herein, we performed a new set of biointeraction studies to gain a more fundamental understanding into the behavior of both pristine and peptide-functionalized AuGSHzwt in complex media. Using the model Strep-tag peptide (WSHPQFEK) as an integrated functional group, we established that AuGSHzwt could be conjugated with increasing numbers of Strep-tags by simple ligand exchange, which provides a generic approach for AuGSHzwt functionalization. It was found that the strep-tagged AuGSHzwt particles were highly resistant to nonspecific protein interactions and retained their targeting capability in biological fluid, displaying efficient binding to Streptactin receptors in nearly undiluted serum. However, AuGSHzwt functionalized with multiple Strep-tags displayed somewhat lower resistance to protein interactions and lower levels of binding to Streptactin than monofunctionalized AuGSHzwt under given conditions. These results underscore the need for optimizing ligand density onto the surface of ultrasmall AuNPs for improved performance. Collectively, our findings support ultrasmall AuGSHzwt as an attractive platform for engineering functional, protein-mimetic nanostructures capable of specific protein recognition within the complex biological milieu.