Preparation of thiolated HA: Thiol end-modified HA (HA-SH) was prepared by reductive amination as previously described [22]. In brief, 100 mg HA (13 kDa) and 60 mg cystamine dihydrochloride were dissolved in 10 mL 0.1 M borate buffer (pH = 8.5) containing 0.4 M NaCl and stirred for 2 h. NaBH3CN was added to the solution for a final concentration of 200 mM and stirred at 40 °C for 5 days. Afterwards, 100 mM dithiothreitol was added and stirred again for 12 h. The resulting HA-SH was dialyzed using a dialysis membrane (MWCO = 3500 Da) against 5 L of 100 mM NaCl solution for 2 days followed by 25% ethanol for 1 day and pure water for 1 day to remove the unreacted chemicals. Finally, the product was freeze-dried for 5 days. HA-SH was characterized using an Avance 300 NMR-spectrometer (Bruker Bio Spin, Ettlingen, Germany).

Preparation of AuNPs with a hyaluronic acid surface (HA-AuNPs): Thiol-gold chemistry was used for the modification of AuNPs with HA: 248 µL HA-SH solution (1 mg/mL) was added to 2 mL AuNP dispersion and stirred for 48 h. HA-AuNPs were purified using a dialysis membrane (MWCO = 25,000) against purified water for 72 h.

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