In situ analysis of liposome hard and soft protein corona structure and composition in a single label-free workflow†
Methodological constraints have limited our ability to study protein corona formation, slowing nanomedicine development and their successful translation into the clinic. We determined hard and soft corona structural properties along with the corresponding proteomic compositions on liposomes in a label-free workflow: surface plasmon resonance and a custom biosensor for in situ structure determination on liposomes and corona separation, and proteomics using sensitive nanoliquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry with open-source bioinformatics platforms. Undiluted human plasma under dynamic flow conditions was used for in vivo relevance. Proof-of-concept is presented with a regular liposome formulation and two light-triggered indocyanine green (ICG) liposome formulations in preclinical development. We observed formulation-dependent differences in corona structure (thickness, protein-to-lipid ratio, and surface mass density) and protein enrichment. Liposomal lipids induced the enrichment of stealth-mediating apolipoproteins in the hard coronas regardless of pegylation, and their preferential enrichment in the soft corona of the pegylated liposome formulation with ICG was observed. This suggests that the soft corona of loosely interacting proteins contributes to the stealth properties as a component of the biological identity modulated by nanomaterial surface properties. The workflow addresses significant methodological gaps in biocorona research by providing truly complementary hard and soft corona compositions with corresponding in situ structural parameters for the first time. It has been designed into a convenient and easily reproducible single-experiment format suited for preclinical development of lipid nanomedicines.