Identification of the mechanisms that drive the toxicity of TiO(2 )particulates: the contribution of physicochemical characteristics

Part Fibre Toxicol. 2009 Dec 17:6:33. doi: 10.1186/1743-8977-6-33.


This review focuses on outlining the toxicity of titanium dioxide (TiO(2)) particulates in vitro and in vivo, in order to understand their ability to detrimentally impact on human health. Evaluating the hazards associated with TiO(2 )particles is vital as it enables risk assessments to be conducted, by combining this information with knowledge on the likely exposure levels of humans. This review has concentrated on the toxicity of TiO(2), due to the fact that the greatest number of studies by far have evaluated the toxicity of TiO(2), in comparison to other metal oxide particulates. This derives from historical reasons (whereby the size dependency of particulate toxicity was first realised for TiO(2)) and due to its widespread application within consumer products (such as sunscreens). The pulmonary and dermal hazards of TiO(2 )have been a particular focus of the available studies, due to the past use of TiO(2 )as a (negative) control when assessing the pulmonary toxicity of particulates, and due to its incorporation within consumer products such as sunscreens. Mechanistic processes that are critical to TiO(2 )particulate toxicity will also be discussed and it is apparent that, in the main, the oxidant driven inflammatory, genotoxic and cytotoxic consequences associated with TiO(2 )exposure, are inherently linked, and are evident both in vivo and in vitro. The attributes of TiO(2 )that have been identified as being most likely to drive the observed toxicity include particle size (and therefore surface area), crystallinity (and photocatalytic activity), surface chemistry, and particle aggregation/agglomeration tendency. The experimental set up also influences toxicological outcomes, so that the species (or model) used, route of exposure, experiment duration, particle concentration and light conditions are all able to influence the findings of investigations. In addition, the applicability of the observed findings for particular TiO(2 )forms, to TiO(2 )particulates in general, requires consideration. At this time it is inappropriate to consider the findings for one TiO(2 )form as being representative for TiO(2 )particulates as a whole, due to the vast number of available TiO(2 )particulate forms and large variety of potential tissue and cell targets that may be affected by exposure. Thus emphasising that the physicochemical characteristics are fundamental to their toxicity.