ACS Appl Bio Mater. 2022 Aug 26. doi: 10.1021/acsabm.2c00434. Online ahead of print.
Nanoparticle (NP) internalization by cells is complex, highly heterogeneous, and fundamentally important for nanomedicine. We report powerful probabilistic statistics from single-cell data on quantitative NP uptake of PEG-coated transferrin receptor-targeted gold NPs for cancer-derived and fibroblast cells according to their cell size, receptor expression, and receptor density. The smaller cancer cells had a greater receptor density and more efficient uptake of targeted NPs. However, simply due to fibroblasts being larger with more receptors, they exhibited greater NP uptake. While highly heterogeneous, targeted NP uptake strongly correlated with receptor expression. When uptake was normalized to cell size, no correlation existed. Consequently, skewed population distributions in cell sizes explain the distribution in NP uptake. Furthermore, exposure to the transferrin receptor-targeted NPs alters the fibroblast size and receptor expression, suggesting that the receptor-targeted NPs may interfere with the metabolic flux and nutrient exchange, which could assist in explaining the altered regulation of cells exposed to nanoparticles.