Strong attractions and repulsions mediated by monovalent salts

Yaohua Li, Martin Girard, Meng Shen, Jaime Andres Millan, Monica Olvera De La Cruz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Controlling interactions between proteins and nanoparticles in electrolyte solutions is crucial for advancing biological sciences and biotechnology. The assembly of charged nanoparticles (NPs) and proteins in aqueous solutions can be directed by modifying the salt concentration. High concentrations of monovalent salt can induce the solubilization or crystallization of NPs and proteins. By using a multiscale coarse-grained molecular dynamics approach, we show that, due to ionic correlations in the electrolyte, NPs pairs at high monovalent salt concentrations interact via remarkably strong long-range attractions or repulsions, which can be split into three regimes depending on the surface charge densities of the NPs. NPs with zero-to-low surface charge densities interact via a long-range attraction that is stronger and has a similar range to the depletion attraction induced by polymers with radius of gyrations comparable to the NP diameter. On the other hand, moderately charged NPs with smooth surfaces as well as DNA-functionalized NPs with no possibility of hybridization between them interact via a strong repulsion of range and strength larger than the repulsion predicted by models that neglect ionic correlations, including the Derjaguin–Landau–Vervey–Overbeek (DLVO) model. Interactions between strongly charged NPs (>2 e/nm2), both types smooth and DNA-functionalized NPs, show an attractive potential well at intermediate-to-high salt concentrations, which demonstrates that electrolytes can induce aggregation of strongly charged NPs. Our work provides an improved understanding of the role of ionic correlations in NP assembly and design rules to utilize the salting-out process to crystallize NPs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11838-11843
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 7 2017


  • Electrolytes
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Nanoparticles
  • Proteins
  • Salting out

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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