Acute lung inflammation has severe morbidity, as seen in COVID-19 patients. Lung inflammation is accompanied or led by massive accumulation of neutrophils in pulmonary capillaries (“margination”). We sought to identify nanostructural properties that predispose nanoparticles to accumulate in pulmonary marginated neutrophils, and therefore to target severely inflamed lungs. We designed a library of nanoparticles and conducted an in vivo screen of biodistributions in naive mice and mice treated with lipopolysaccharides. We found that supramolecular organization of protein in nanoparticles predicts uptake in inflamed lungs. Specifically, nanoparticles with agglutinated protein (NAPs) efficiently home to pulmonary neutrophils, while protein nanoparticles with symmetric structure (e.g. viral capsids) are ignored by pulmonary neutrophils. We validated this finding by engineering protein-conjugated liposomes that recapitulate NAP targeting to neutrophils in inflamed lungs. We show that NAPs can diagnose acute lung injury in SPECT imaging and that NAP-like liposomes can mitigate neutrophil extravasation and pulmonary edema arising in lung inflammation. Finally, we demonstrate that ischemic ex vivo human lungs selectively take up NAPs, illustrating translational potential. This work demonstrates that structure-dependent interactions with neutrophils can dramatically alter the biodistribution of nanoparticles, and NAPs have significant potential in detecting and treating respiratory conditions arising from injury or infections.
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