Toxicity of titanium dioxide nanoparticles to rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss): gill injury, oxidative stress, and other physiological effects

Aquat Toxicol. 2007 Oct 30;84(4):415-30. doi: 10.1016/j.aquatox.2007.07.009. Epub 2007 Jul 25.


Mammalian and in vitro studies have raised concerns about the toxicity of titanium dioxide nanoparticles (TiO2 NPs), but there are very limited data on ecotoxicity to aquatic life. This paper is an observational study where we aim to describe the toxicity of TiO2 NPs to the main body systems of rainbow trout. Stock solutions of dispersed TiO2 NPs were prepared by sonication without using solvents. A semi-static test system was used to expose rainbow trout to either a freshwater control, 0.1, 0.5, or 1.0 mg l(-1) TiO2 NPs for up to 14 days. Exposure to TiO2 NPs caused some gill pathologies including oedema and thickening of the lamellae. No major haematological or blood disturbances were observed in terms of red and white blood cell counts, haematocrit values, whole blood haemoglobin, and plasma Na+ or K+ concentrations. Tissue metal levels (Na+, K+, Ca2+ and Mn) were generally unaffected. However, some exposure concentration-dependent changes in tissue Cu and Zn levels were observed, especially in the brain. Exposure to TiO2 NPs caused statistically significant decreases in Na+K+-ATPase activity (ANOVA, P<0.05) in the gills and intestine, and a trend of decreasing enzyme activity in the brain (the latter was not statistically significant). Thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) showed exposure concentration-dependent and statistically significant (ANOVA or Kruskal-Wallis test, P<0.05) increases (two-fold or more) in the gill, intestine and brain, but not the liver during exposure to TiO2 NPs compared to controls. TiO2 NP exposure caused statistically significant (ANOVA, P<0.05) increases in the total glutathione levels in the gills, but depletion of hepatic glutathione compared to controls. Total glutathione levels in the brain and intestine were unaffected. Liver cells exposed to TiO2 NPs showed minor fatty change and lipidosis, and some hepatocytes showed condensed nuclear bodies (apoptotic bodies). Fish probably ingested water containing TiO2 NPs during exposure (stress-induced drinking) which may have resulted in some areas of erosion on the intestinal epithelium. Overall we conclude that titanium dioxide nanoparticles are not a major ionoregulatory toxicant, or haemolytic, at the concentration and exposure times used. Respiratory distress is a concern and sub-lethal toxicity involves oxidative stress, organ pathologies, and the induction of anti-oxidant defences, such as glutathione.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / pathology
  • Copper / metabolism
  • Gills / drug effects*
  • Gills / pathology
  • Glutathione / blood
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Intestines / drug effects
  • Intestines / pathology
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / pathology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss / blood
  • Oncorhynchus mykiss / physiology*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Potassium / blood
  • Sodium / blood
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase / blood
  • Thiobarbituric Acid Reactive Substances / metabolism
  • Titanium / toxicity*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity
  • Zinc / metabolism


  • Thiobarbituric Acid Reactive Substances
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • titanium dioxide
  • Copper
  • Sodium
  • Titanium
  • Sodium-Potassium-Exchanging ATPase
  • Glutathione
  • Zinc
  • Potassium