This study explored the impact of gold nanoparticles on the metabolic activity and morphology of human pulmonary endothelial cell monolayers. We developed a gold nanoparticle library of three different sizes and two surface chemistries that include anionic citrate and the cationic polyelectrolyte poly(allylamine hydrochloride). The nanoparticles were characterized in cell culture medium to assess how their physical properties are altered after exposure to biological fluids. A bovine serum albumin pretreatment protocol was developed to stabilize the nanoparticles in cell culture medium. Results of this study show that an 18 h exposure of human pulmonary artery endothelial cells to the different nanoparticles modestly affects cellular metabolic activity. However, nanoparticle exposure perturbs the cortical actin networks and induces the formation of intercellular gaps. In particular, exposure to the poly(allylamine hydrochloride)-coated particles reduces the area of cell–cell junctions—a change that correlates with increased leakiness of endothelial barriers. The presence of excess polyelectrolyte capping agents in the supernatant of poly(allylamine hydrochloride)-coated nanoparticles significantly impacts endothelial morphology. Pretreatment of the particle supernatant with bovine serum albumin mitigates the negative effects of free or bound polyelectrolytes on endothelial cell monolayers.
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