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Protein adsorption onto polymer surfaces is a very complex and ubiquitous phenomenon whose integrated process impacts essential applications in our daily life such as food packaging materials, health devices, diagnostic tools, and medical products. Increasingly, novel polymer materials with greater chemical intricacy and reduced dimensionality are used for various applications involving adsorbed proteins on their surfaces. Hence, the nature of protein-surface interactions to consider is becoming much more complicated than before. A large body of literature exists for protein adsorption. However, most of these investigations have focused on collectively measured, ensemble-averaged protein behaviors that occur on macroscale and chemically unvarying polymer surfaces instead of direct measurements at the single protein or sub-protein level. In addition, interrogations of protein-polymer adsorption boundaries in these studies were typically carried out by indirect methods, whose insights may not be suitably applied for explaining individual protein adsorption processes occurring onto nanostructured, chemically varying polymer surfaces. Therefore, an important gap in our knowledge still exists that needs to be systematically addressed via direct measurement means at the single protein and sub-protein level. Such efforts will require multifaceted experimental and theoretical approaches that can probe multilength scales of protein adsorption, while encompassing both single proteins and their collective ensemble behaviors at the length scale spanning from the nanoscopic all the way to the macroscopic scale. In this review, key research achievements in nanoscale protein adsorption to date will be summarized. Specifically, protein adsorption studies involving polymer surfaces with their defining feature dimensions and associated chemical partitions comparable to the size of individual proteins will be discussed in detail. In this regard, recent works bridging the crucial knowledge gap in protein adsorption will be highlighted. New findings of intriguing protein surface assembly behaviors and adsorption kinetics unique to nanoscale polymer templates will be covered. Single protein and sub-protein level approaches to reveal unique nanoscale protein-polymer surface interactions and protein surface assembly characteristics will be also emphasized. Potential advantages of these research endeavors in laying out fundamentally guided design principles for practical product development will then be discussed. Lastly, important research areas still needed to further narrow the knowledge gap in nanoscale protein adsorption will be identified.

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Publication history

Received: 18 October 2019
Revised: 07 February 2020
Accepted: 11 February 2020
Published: 28 March 2020
Issue date: May 2020

Copyright

© Tsinghua University Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020

Acknowledgements

D. H. C., T. X, and J. T. acknowledge financial support on this work by the National Science Foundation (NSF Award Nos. CHE1404658 and CHE1903857) from the Macromolecular, Supramolecular and Nanochemistry Program under the Division of Chemistry. J. H. acknowledges the NSF support from the Independent Research/Development (IR/D) program while serving at the National Science Foundation.

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Email: nanores@tup.tsinghua.edu.cn

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