Energetics of liposomes encapsulating silica nanoparticles

Nanoparticles may be taken up into cells via endocytotic processes whereby the foreign particles are encapsulated in vesicles formed by lipid bilayers. After uptake into these endocytic vesicles, intracellular targeting processes and vesicle fusion might cause transfer of the vesicle cargo into other vesicle types, e.g., early or late endosomes, lysosomes, or others. In addition, nanoparticles might be taken up as single particles or larger agglomerates and the agglomeration state of the particles might change during vesicle processing. In this study, liposomes are regarded as simple models for intracellular vesicles. We compared the energetic balance between two liposomes encapsulating each a single silica nanoparticle and a large liposome containing two silica nanoparticles. Analytical expressions were derived that show how the energy of the system depends on the particle size and the distance between the particles. We found that the electrostatic contributions to the total energy of the system are negligibly small. In contrast, the van der Waals term strongly favors arrangements where the liposome snugly fits around the nanoparticle(s). Thus the two separated small liposomes have a more favorable energy than a larger liposome encapsulating two nanoparticles.