An instantaneous colorimetric protein assay based on spontaneous formation of a protein corona on gold nanoparticles
Commercial protein assays used ubiquitously in laboratories typically require long incubation times due to the inherently slow protein–reagent reactions. In this study, we report a novel facile technique for the instantaneous measurement of total protein concentration by exploiting the rapid aggregation dynamics of gold nanoparticles (NPs). By adsorbing different amounts of proteins on their surface to form a protein corona, these NPs can be sterically stabilized to different degrees by aggregation, thus exhibiting a spectrum of color change which can be quantitatively characterized by UV-Vis absorption spectroscopy. We evaluated this technique on four model proteins with different structures: bovine serum albumin (BSA), normal mouse immunoglobulin G (IgG), fibrinogen (FBG) and apolipoprotein A-I (Apo-A1) using two approaches, sequential and simultaneous. We obtained an approach-dependent linear concentration range up to 80 μg mL−1 and 400 μg mL−1 for sequential and simultaneous approaches, respectively. This linear working range was wider than that of the commercial Bradford assay and comparable to the Micro BCA assay. The simultaneous approach was also able to produce a linear working range of 200 to 1000 μg mL−1 (R2 = 0.995) in human urine, while the sequential approach was non-functional in urine. Similar to Micro BCA, the NP-based protein assay was able to elicit a linear response (R2 > 0.87) for all four proteins with different structures. However, unlike Micro BCA which requires up to 120 min of incubation, we were able to obtain the read-out almost instantaneously without the need for incubation. The NP-based technique using the simultaneous approach can thus be exploited as a novel assay for instantaneous protein quantification to increase the productivity of laboratory processes.