Unique cellular interaction of silver nanoparticles: size-dependent generation of reactive oxygen species

J Phys Chem B. 2008 Oct 30;112(43):13608-19. doi: 10.1021/jp712087m. Epub 2008 Oct 3.


The rapid advancement of nanotechnology has created a vast array of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) which have unique physical (size, shape, crystallinity, surface charge) and chemical (surface coating, elemental composition and solubility) attributes. These physicochemical properties of ENMs can produce chemical conditions to induce a pro-oxidant environment in the cells, causing an imbalanced cellular energy system dependent on redox potential and thereby leading to adverse biological consequences, ranging from the initiation of inflammatory pathways through to cell death. The present study was designed to evaluate size-dependent cellular interactions of known biologically active silver nanoparticles (NPs, Ag-15 nm, Ag-30 nm, and Ag-55 nm). Alveolar macrophages provide the first defense and were studied for their potential role in initiating oxidative stress. Cell exposure produced morphologically abnormal sizes and adherence characteristics with significant NP uptake at high doses after 24 h. Toxicity evaluations using mitochondrial and cell membrane viability along with reactive oxygen species (ROS) were performed. After 24 h of exposure, viability metrics significantly decreased with increasing dose (10-75 microg/mL) of Ag-15 nm and Ag-30 nm NPs. A more than 10-fold increase of ROS levels in cells exposed to 50 microg/mL Ag-15 nm suggests that the cytotoxicity of Ag-15 nm is likely to be mediated through oxidative stress. In addition, activation of the release of traditional inflammatory mediators were examined by measuring levels of cytokines/chemokines, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha), macrophage inhibitory protein (MIP-2), and interleukin-6 (IL-6), released into the culture media. After 24 h of exposure to Ag-15 nm nanoparticles, a significant inflammatory response was observed by the release of TNF-alpha, MIP-2, and IL-1beta. However, there was no detectable level of IL-6 upon exposure to silver nanoparticles. In summary, a size-dependent toxicity was produced by silver nanoparticles, and one predominant mechanism of toxicity was found to be largely mediated through oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / drug effects
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / metabolism
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Microscopy, Phase-Contrast
  • Mitochondria / drug effects
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / drug effects
  • Mitochondrial Membranes / metabolism
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Particle Size
  • Rats
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / chemistry*
  • Silver / chemistry*
  • Silver / toxicity*
  • Solutions


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Solutions
  • Silver
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Glutathione