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The interaction of diverse biomaterials with surfaces is more crucial than ever for biomedical applications to ensure efficiency and reproducibility. Very interesting surface materials are micrometer-thick polyelectrolyte multilayers. Not only their surface but also the bulk can be loaded with biomaterials like proteins or DNA for various purposes. Therefore, we established a method to analyze the lateral and vertical distribution of fluorescently labelled proteins of various size and charge in polyelectrolyte films composed of poly(L-lysine) and hyaluronic acid by confocal laser scanning microscopy. This approach enables us to measure the diffusion coefficients of the proteins via fluorescence recovery after photobleaching as a function of their vertical position in the film and facilitates the understanding of molecular interactions in the film with a high resolution in both space and time. As a result, we confirm that protein loading in the film is driven by electrostatic interactions – uncharged dextran molecules of 10 and 500 kDa do not diffuse into the film. Proteins of different sizes (3–11 nm) can diffuse relatively fast (D = 2–4 μm2 s−1) independent of their net charge, indicating complex interpolymer interactions. This approach is a new powerful experimental tool to design the polyelectrolyte multilayers for bio-applications by finding a relationship between intermolecular interactions and mobility and availability of biomolecules to biological samples (e.g. cells) or detection units (e.g. biosensors).
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