Considering the biological reactivity of pure quartz in lung cells, there is a strong interest to clarify the cellular effects of respirable siliceous dusts, like bentonites. In the present study, we investigated the cellular uptake and the cytotoxic potential of bentonite particles (Ø< 10 microm) with an alpha-quartz content of up to 6% and different chemical modifications (activation: alkaline, acidic, organic) in human lung fibroblasts (IMR90). Additionally, the ability of the particles to induce apoptosis in IMR90-cells and the hemolytic activity was tested. All bentonite samples were tested for endotoxins with the in vitro-Pyrogen test and were found to be negative. Cellular uptake of particles by IMR90-cells was studied by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Cytotoxicity was analyzed in IMR90-cells by determination of viable cells using flow cytometry and by measuring of the cell respiratory activity. Induced apoptotic cells were detected by AnnexinV/Propidiumiodide-staining and gel electrophoresis. Our results demonstrate that activated bentonite particles are better taken up by IMR90-cells than untreated (native) bentonite particles. Also, activated bentonite particles with a quartz content of 5-6% were more cytotoxic than untreated bentonites or bentonites with a quartz content lower than 4%. The bentonite samples induced necrotic as well as apoptotic cell death. In general, bentonites showed a high membrane-damaging potential shown as hemolytic activity in human erythrocytes. We conclude that cellular effects of bentonite particles in human lung cells are enhanced after chemical treatment of the particles. The cytotoxic potential of the different bentonites is primarily characterized by a strong lysis of the cell membrane.