Cell surface receptors play ubiquitous roles in cell signaling and communication and their expression levels are important biomarkers for many diseases. Expression levels are, however, only one factor that determines the physiological activity of a receptor. For some surface receptors, their distribution on the cell surface, especially their clustering, provides additional mechanisms for regulation. To access this spatial information robust assays are required that provide detailed insight into the organization of cell surface receptors on nanometer length scales. In this manuscript, we demonstrate through combination of scattering spectroscopy, electron microscopy, and generalized multiple particle Mie theory (GMT) simulations that the density- and morphology-dependent spectral response of Au nanoparticle (NP) immunolabels bound to the epidermal growth factor receptors ErbB1 and ErbB2 encodes quantitative information of both the cell surface expression and spatial clustering of the two receptors in different unliganded in vitro cancer cell lines (SKBR3, MCF7, A431). A systematic characterization of the collective spectral responses of NPs targeted at ErbB1 and ErbB2 at various NP concentrations indicates differences in the large-scale organization of ErbB1 and ErbB2 in cell lines that overexpress these receptors. Validation experiments in the scanning electron microscope (SEM) confirm that NPs targeted at ErbB1 on A431 are more strongly clustered than NPs bound to ErbB2 on SKBR3 or MCF7 at overall comparable NP surface densities. This finding is consistent with the existence of larger receptor clusters for ErbB1 than for ErbB2 in the plasma membranes of the respective cells.
Wang, J., Yu, X., Boriskina, S. V., & Reinhard, B. M. (2012). Quantification of differential ErbB1 and ErbB2 cell surface expression and spatial nanoclustering through plasmon coupling. Nano Letters, 12(6), 3231–3237. https://doi.org/10.1021/nl3012227