Wrapping of nanoparticles by the cell membrane: the role of interactions between the nanoparticles
A fundamental understanding of the interactions between nanoparticles (NPs) and the cell membrane is essential to improve the performance of the NP-based biomedical applications and assess the potential toxicity of NPs. Despite the great progress in understanding the interaction between individual NP and the membrane, little is known about the interaction between multiple NPs and the membrane. In this work, we investigate the wrapping of two parallel elongated NPs by the membrane, taking the NP–NP electrostatic interaction and van der Waals (vdW) interaction into consideration. Three types of NPs, namely the rigid NPs with circular and elliptic cross-sections and the deformable NPs, are systematically investigated. The results show that the electrostatic interaction would enhance the tendency of the independent wrapping and inhibit the rotation of the elongated and equally charged NPs with elliptic cross-sections. Under the vdW interaction, the competition of the NP–NP adhesion and the membrane elastic energies with the NP–membrane adhesion energy leads the NPs to be wrapped cooperatively or independently. For the system with elongated NPs with elliptic cross-sections, the NPs are more likely to be wrapped independently as the shapes become more anisotropic and the NPs would rotate to contact each other with the flat sides in the cooperative wrapping configuration. Moreover, the soft NPs are more likely to be wrapped cooperatively compared with the stiff NPs. These results may provide guidelines to control the internalization pathway of NPs and improve the efficiency of NP-based drug delivery systems.