Silver nanoparticles are of interest to be used as antimicrobial agents in wound dressings and coatings in medical devices, but potential adverse effects have been reported in the literature. The most pronounced effect of silver nanoparticles and the role of particle size in determining these effects, also in comparison to silver ions, are largely unknown. Effects of silver nanoparticles of different sizes (20, 80, 113 nm) were compared in in vitro assays for cytotoxicity, inflammation, genotoxicity and developmental toxicity. Silver nanoparticles induced effects in all endpoints studied, but effects on cellular metabolic activity and membrane damage were most pronounced. In all toxicity endpoints studied, silver nanoparticles of 20 nm were more toxic than the larger nanoparticles. In L929 fibroblasts, but not in RAW 264.7 macrophages, 20 nm silver nanoparticles were more cytotoxic than silver ions. Collectively, these results indicate that effects of silver nanoparticles on different toxic endpoints may be the consequence of their ability to inflict cell damage. In addition, the potency of silver in the form of nanoparticles to induce cell damage compared to silver ions is cell type and size-dependent.
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