In vitro cytotoxicity of oxide nanoparticles: comparison to asbestos, silica, and the effect of particle solubility

Environmental Science and Technology. 2006 Jul 15;40(14):4374-81. [Link]

Brunner TJ, Wick P, Manser P, Spohn P, Grass RN, Limbach LK, Bruinink A, Stark WJ.

Institute for Chemical and Bioengineering, Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, ETH Zurich, CH-8093 Zurich, Switzerland.


Early indicators for nanoparticle-derived adverse health effects should provide a relative measure for cytotoxicity of nanomaterials in comparison to existing toxicological data. We have therefore evaluated a human mesothelioma and a rodent fibroblast cell line for in vitro cytotoxicity tests using seven industrially important nanoparticles. Their response in terms of metabolic activity and cell proliferation of cultures exposed to 0-30 ppm nanoparticles (microg g(-1)) was compared to the effects of nontoxic amorphous silica and toxic crocidolite asbestos. Solubility was found to strongly influence the cytotoxic response. The results further revealed a nanoparticle-specific cytotoxic mechanism for uncoated iron oxide and partial detoxification or recovery after treatment with zirconia, ceria, or titania. While in vitro experiments may never replace in vivo studies, the relatively simple cytotoxic tests provide a readily available pre-screening method.