Understanding nanoparticle cellular entry: A physicochemical perspective

Charlotte M Beddoes, C Patrick Case, Wuge H Briscoe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

272 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding interactions between nanoparticles (NPs) with biological matter, particularly cells, is becoming increasingly important due to their growing application in medicine and materials, and consequent biological and environmental exposure. For NPs to be utilised to their full potential, it is important to correlate their functional characteristics with their physical properties, which may also be used to predict any adverse cellular responses. A key mechanism for NPs to impart toxicity is to gain cellular entry directly. Many parameters affect the behaviour of nanomaterials in a cellular environment particularly their interactions with cell membranes, including their size, shape and surface chemistry as well as factors such as the cell type, location and external environment (e.g. other surrounding materials, temperature, pH and pressure). Aside from in vitro and in vivo experiments, model cell membrane systems have been used in both computer simulations and physicochemical experiments to elucidate the mechanisms for NP cellular entry. Here we present a brief overview of the effects of NPs physical parameters on their cellular uptake, with focuses on 1) related research using model membrane systems and physicochemical methodologies; and 2) proposed physical mechanisms for NP cellular entrance, with implications to their nanotoxicity. We conclude with a suggestion that the energetic process of NP cellular entry can be evaluated by studying the effects of NPs on lipid mesophase transitions, as the molecular deformations and thus the elastic energy cost are analogous between such transitions and endocytosis. This presents an opportunity for contributions to understanding nanotoxicity from a physicochemical perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-68
Number of pages21
JournalAdvances in Colloid and Interface Science
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • Cell Membrane
  • Endocytosis
  • Humans
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Nanoparticles


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