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Perfluorocarbon-based nanoemulsion particles have become promising platforms for the delivery of therapeutic and diagnostic agents to specific target cells in a non-invasive manner. A “contact-facilitated” delivery mechanism has been proposed wherein the emulsifying phospholipid monolayer on the nanoemulsion surface contacts and forms a lipid complex with the outer monolayer of target cell plasma membrane, allowing cargo to diffuse to the surface of target cell. While this mechanism is supported by experimental evidence, its molecular details are unknown. The present study develops a coarse-grained model of nanoemulsion particles that are compatible with the MARTINI force field. Simulations using this coarse-grained model have demonstrated multiple fusion events between the particles and a model vesicular lipid bilayer. The fusion proceeds in the following sequence: dehydration at the interface, close apposition of the particles, protrusion of hydrophobic molecules to the particle surface, transient lipid complex formation, absorption of nanoemulsion into the liposome. The initial monolayer disruption acts as a rate-limiting step and is strongly influenced by particle size as well as by the presence of phospholipids supporting negative spontaneous curvature. The core-forming perfluorocarbons play critical roles in initiating the fusion process by facilitating protrusion of hydrophobic moieties into the interface between the two particles. This study directly supports the hypothesized nanoemulsion delivery mechanism and provides the underlying molecular details that enable engineering of nanoemulsions for a variety of medical applications.
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