This paper reports the findings of an investigation of the reactivity and assembly of gold nanoparticles mediated by homocysteine (Hcys), a thiol-containing amino acid found in plasma. The aim is to gain insight into the interparticle interaction and reactivity, which has potential application for the detection of thiol-containing amino acids. By monitoring the evolution of the surface plasmon resonance absorption and the dynamic light scattering of gold nanoparticles in the presence of Hcys, the assembly was shown to be dependent on the nature and concentration of the electrolytes, reflecting an effective screening of the diffuse layer around the initial citrate-capped nanoparticles that decreases the barrier to the Hcys adsorption onto the surface, and around the subsequent Hcys-capped nanoparticles that facilitate the zwitterion-type electrostatic interactions between amino acid groups of Hcys bound to different nanoparticles. A key element of the finding is that the interparticle zwitterion interaction of the Hcys-Au system is much stronger than the expectation for a simple Hcys or Au solution, a new phenomenon originating from the unique nanoscale interparticle interaction. The strength and reversibility of the interparticle zwitterion-type electrostatic interactions between amino acid groups are evidenced by the slow disassembly upon increasing pH at ambient temperatures and its acceleration at elevated temperature. These findings provide new insight into the precise control of interfacial interactions and reactivities between amino acids anchored to nanoparticles and have broad implications in the development of colorimetric nanoprobes for amino acids.
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