The rise of the nanomaterial metabolite corona, and emergence of the complete corona

  • Andrew J. Chetwynd, Iseult Lynch
  • Environmental Science Nano, January 2020, Royal Society of Chemistry
  • DOI: 10.1039/c9en00938h

Nanomaterials bind a range of low molecule weight molecules in addition to proteins

What is it about?

Metabolites are small molecules, involved in all biological processes, often working in partnership with proteins, that are responsible for providing energy, signaling, stimulatory and inhibitoryprocesses, yet their interactions with nanomaterials have not been explored that widely as yet, especially as compared to proteins, which are larger macromolecules. Here we lay out a framework for considering the role of small molecules in the nanomaterial corona - and suggest that many of the principles worked out experimentally for the protein corona, such as affinity versus adundance as a driver for binding, and evolution over time and with a change in the surrounding biomoelcules, also apply to the metabolite corona. We suggest that full understanding of the corona requires measurement and determination of both the protein and the metabilite constituents, as well as the cooperative (co-binding) interactions between the two groups of biomolecules.

Why is it important?

We show that the range of biomolecules that bind to nanoparticles is much wider than previously understood, and suggest that characterisation of both the small molecule (metabolite) and protein corona will be much more informative than either part alone. We also explore the mechanisms of binding, and suggest that cooperative effects play an importnat role in recruiting both metabolites and proteins into the nanomaterials corona. Knowledge of the complete corona (lipids, sugars, proteins) will enable progress in design of nanomedicines, design of nanomaterials for environmental remediation, and assessment of nanomaterials safety to ensure safe application.


Prof. Iseult Lynch
University of Birmingham

We expect that this article will inspire more researchers to focus "beyond" just the proteins to explore also the wider interactions, including in the environment where the range of biomoelcules is enormous, and highly dynamic. We are really excited about this, and suggest how researchers can split their samples to explore both aspects in parallel, until such time as optimised 1-step isolation protocols have been developed.

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The following have contributed to this page: Prof. Iseult Lynch