Characterising the diffusion of biological nanoparticles on fluid and cross-linked membranes†
Tracing the motion of macromolecules, viruses, and nanoparticles adsorbed onto cell membranes is currently the most direct way of probing the complex dynamic interactions behind vital biological processes, including cell signalling, trafficking, and viral infection. The resulting trajectories are usually consistent with some type of anomalous diffusion, but the molecular origins behind the observed anomalous behaviour are usually not obvious. Here we use coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations to help identify the physical mechanisms that can give rise to experimentally observed trajectories of nanoscopic objects moving on biological membranes. We find that diffusion on membranes of high fluidities typically results in normal diffusion of the adsorbed nanoparticle, irrespective of the concentration of receptors, receptor clustering, or multivalent interactions between the particle and membrane receptors. Gel-like membranes on the other hand result in anomalous diffusion of the particle, which becomes more pronounced at higher receptor concentrations. This anomalous diffusion is characterised by local particle trapping in the regions of high receptor concentrations and fast hopping between such regions. The normal diffusion is recovered in the limit where the gel membrane is saturated with receptors. We conclude that hindered receptor diffusivity can be a common reason behind the observed anomalous diffusion of viruses, vesicles, and nanoparticles adsorbed on cell and model membranes. Our results enable direct comparison with experiments and offer a new route for interpreting motility experiments on cell membranes.