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Cellular Targets and Mechanisms in the Cytotoxic Action of Non-biodegradable Engineered Nanoparticles

[ Vol. 14 , Issue. 9 ]


Eleonore Fröhlich   Pages 976 - 988 ( 13 )


The use of nanoparticles (NPs) has improved the quality of many industrial, pharmaceutical, and medical products. Increased surface reactivity, a major reason for the positive effects of NPs, may, on the other hand, also cause adverse biological effects. Almost all non-biodegradable NPs cause cytotoxic effects but employ quite different modes of action. The relation of biodegradable or loaded NPs to cytotoxic mechanism is more difficult to identify because effects may by caused by the particles or degradation products thereof. This review introduces problems of NPs in conventional cytotoxicity testing (changes of particle parameters in biological fluids, cellular dose, cell line and assay selection). Generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species by NPs and of metal ions due to dissolution of the NPs is discussed as a cause for cytotoxicity. The effects of NPs on plasma membrane, mitochondria, lysosomes, nucleus, and intracellular proteins as cellular targets for cytotoxicity are summarized. The comparison of the numerous studies on the mechanism of cellular effects shows that, although some common targets have been identified, other effects are unique for particular NPs or groups of NPs. While titanium dioxide NPs appear to act mainly by generation of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, biological effects of silver and iron oxide are caused by both reactive species and free metal ions. NPs lacking heavy metals, such as carbon nanotubes and polystyrene particles, interfere with cell metabolism mainly by binding to macromolecules.


Cytotoxicity, genotoxicity, lysosomes, metal nanoparticles, metal oxide nanoparticles, mitochondria, plasma membrane, reactive oxygen species.


Center for Medical Research, Medical University of Graz, Stiftingtalstr. 24, 8010 Graz, Austria.

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