The Fate of ZnO Nanoparticles Administered to Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells

A particular challenge for nanotoxicology is the evaluation of the biological fate and toxicity of nanomaterials that dissolve in aqueous fluids. Zinc oxide nanomaterials are of particular concern because dissolution leads to release of the toxic divalent zinc ion. Although zinc ions have been implicated in ZnO cytotoxicity, direct identification of the chemical form of zinc taken up by cells exposed to ZnO nanoparticles, and its intracellular fate, has not yet been achieved. During the present study, the authors combined high-resolution X-ray spectromicroscopy and high elemental sensitivity. X-ray microprobe analyses to determine the fate of ZnO and less soluble iron-doped ZnO nanoparticles following exposure to cultures of human bronchial epithelial cells, BEAS-2B. Two dimensional X-ray imaging methods were complemented with atomic force microscopy of cell surfaces to distinguish between nanoparticles that were transported inside the cells from those that adhered to the cell exterior. The data suggest cellular uptake of ZnO nanoparticles is a mechanism of zinc accumulation in cells. Following uptake, ZnO nanoparticles dissolved completely generating intracellular Zn2+ complexed by molecular ligands. These results corroborate a model for ZnO nanoparticle toxicity that is based on nanoparticle uptake followed by intracellular dissololution.

Authors: Gilbert, Benjamin; Fakra, Sirine C.; Xia, Tian; Pokhrel, Suman; Madler, Lutz; Nel, Andre E. ;Full Source: ACS Nano [online computer file] 2012, 6(6), 4921-4930 (Eng) ;