Exploring Residue-Level Interactions Between the Biofilm-Driving R2ab Protein and Polystyrene Nanoparticles

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Chemistry and Biochemistry


Mathematics and Natural Sciences


In biological systems, proteins can bind to nanoparticles to form a “corona” of adsorbed molecules. The nanoparticle corona is of significant interest because it impacts an organism’s response to a nanomaterial. Understanding the corona requires knowledge of protein structure, orientation, and dynamics at the surface. A residue-level mapping of protein behavior on nanoparticle surfaces is needed, but this mapping is difficult to obtain with traditional approaches. Here, we have investigated the interaction between R2ab and polystyrene nanoparticles (PSNPs) at the level of individual residues. R2ab is a bacterial surface protein from Staphylococcus epidermidis and is known to interact strongly with polystyrene, leading to biofilm formation. We have used mass spectrometry after lysine methylation and hydrogen–deuterium exchange (HDX) NMR spectroscopy to understand how the R2ab protein interacts with PSNPs of different sizes. Lysine methylation experiments reveal subtle but statistically significant changes in methylation patterns in the presence of PSNPs, indicating altered protein surface accessibility. HDX rates become slower overall in the presence of PSNPs. However, some regions of the R2ab protein exhibit faster than average exchange rates in the presence of PSNPs, while others are slower than the average behavior, suggesting conformational changes upon binding. HDX rates and methylation ratios support a recently proposed “adsorbotope” model for PSNPs, wherein adsorbed proteins consist of unfolded anchor points interspersed with partially structured regions. Our data also highlight the challenges of characterizing complex protein-nanoparticle interactions using these techniques, such as fast exchange rates. While providing insights into how R2ab adsorbs onto PSNP surfaces, this research emphasizes the need for advanced methods to comprehend residue-level interactions in the nanoparticle corona.

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