Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Optical tweezers reveal relationship between microstructure and nanoparticle penetration of pulmonary mucus

Julian Kirch, Andreas Schneider, Bérengère Abou, Alexander Hopf, Ulrich F. Schaefer, Marc Schneider,Christian Schall, Christian Wagner, and Claus-Michael Lehr

In this study, the mobility of nanoparticles in mucus and similar hydrogels as model systems was assessed to elucidate the link between microscopic diffusion behavior and macroscopic penetration of such gels. Differences in particle adhesion to mucus components were strongly dependent on particle coating. Particles coated with 2 kDa PEG exhibited a decreased adhesion to mucus components, whereas chitosan strongly increased the adhesion. Despite such mucoinert properties of PEG, magnetic nanoparticles of both coatings did not penetrate through native respiratory mucus, resisting high magnetic forces (even for several hours). However, model hydrogels were, indeed, penetrated by both particles in dependency of particle coating, obeying the theory of particle mobility in an external force field. Comparison of penetration data with cryogenic scanning EM images of mucus and the applied model systems suggested particularly high rigidity of the mucin scaffold and a broad pore size distribution in mucus as reasons for the observed particle immobilization. Active probing of the rigidity of mucus and model gels with optical tweezers was used in this context to confirm such properties of mucus on the microscale, thus presenting the missing link between micro- and macroscopical observations. Because of high heterogeneity in the size of the voids and pores in mucus, on small scales, particle mobility will depend on adhesive or inert properties. However, particle translocation over distances larger than a few micrometers is restricted by highly rigid structures within the mucus mesh.

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