Silica particles convert thiol-containing molecules to disulfides

Yangjie Li, Stanford University
Kurt W. Kolasinski, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Richard N. Zare, Stanford University


Synthetic amorphous silica is a common food additive and a popular cosmetic ingredient. Mesoporous silica particles are also widely studied for their potential use in drug delivery and imaging applications because of their unique properties, such as tunable pore sizes, large surfaces areas, and assumed biocompatibility. Such a nanomaterial, when consisting of pure silicon dioxide, is generally considered to be chemically inert, but in this study, we showed that oxidation yields for different compounds were facilitated by simply incubating aqueous solutions with pure silica particles. Three thiol-containing molecules, L-cysteine, glutathione, and D-penicillamine, were studied separately, and it was found that more than 95% of oxidation happened after incubating any of these compounds with mesoporous silica particles in the dark for a day at room temperature. Oxidation increased over incubation time, and more oxidation was found for particles having larger surface areas. For nonporous silica particles at submicron ranges, yields of oxidation were different based on the structures of molecules, correlating with steric hindrance while accessing surfaces. We propose that the silyloxy radical (SiO center dot) on silica surfaces is what facilitates oxidation. Density functional theory calculations were conducted for total energy changes for reactions between different aqueous species and silicon dioxide surfaces. These calculations identified two most plausible pathways of the lowest energy to generate SiO center dot radicals from water radical cations H2O center dot(+) and hydroxyl radicals center dot OH, previously known to exist at water interfaces.