Pointing in the right direction: Controlling the orientation of proteins on nanoparticles improves targeting efficiency

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10 Citations (Scopus)


Protein-conjugated nanoparticles have the potential to precisely deliver therapeutics to target sites in the body by specifically binding to cell surface receptors. To maximize targeting efficiency, the three-dimensional presentation of ligands toward these receptors is crucial. Herein, we demonstrate significantly enhanced targeting of nanoparticles to cancer cells by controlling the protein orientation on the nanoparticle surface. To engineer the point of attachment, we used amber codon reassignment to incorporate a synthetic amino acid, p-azidophenylalanine (azPhe), at specific locations within a single domain antibody (sdAb or nanobody) that recognizes the human epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). The azPhe modified sdAb can be tethered to the nanoparticle in a specific orientation using a bioorthogonal click reaction with a strained cyclooctyne. The crystal structure of the sdAb bound to EGFR was used to rationally select sites likely to optimally display the sdAb upon conjugation to a fluorescent nanocrystal (Qdot). Qdots with sdAb attached at the azPhe13 position showed 6 times greater binding affinity to EGFR expressing A549 cells, compared to Qdots with conventionally (succinimidyl ester) conjugated sdAb. As ligand-targeted delivery systems move toward clinical application, this work shows that nanoparticle targeting can be optimized by engineering the site of protein conjugation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1827−1831
Number of pages5
JournalNano Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2019


  • nanoparticles
  • noncanonical amino acid
  • protein engineering
  • single domain antibody
  • Targeted delivery

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