Surface functionalities of gold nanoparticles impact embryonic gene expression responses

Nanotoxicology. 2013 Mar;7(2):192-201. doi: 10.3109/17435390.2011.648225. Epub 2012 Jan 20.


Incorporation of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) into consumer products is increasing; however, there is a gap in available toxicological data to determine the safety of AuNPs. In this study, we utilised the embryonic zebrafish to investigate how surface functionalisation and charge influence molecular responses. Precisely engineered AuNPs with 1.5 nm cores were synthesised and functionalized with three ligands: 2-mercaptoethanesulfonic acid (MES), N,N,N-trimethylammoniumethanethiol (TMAT), or 2-(2-(2-mercaptoethoxy)ethoxy)ethanol. Developmental assessments revealed differential biological responses when embryos were exposed to the functionalised AuNPs at the same concentration. Using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, AuNP uptake was confirmed in exposed embryos. Following exposure to MES- and TMAT-AuNPs from 6 to 24 or 6 to 48 h post fertilisation, pathways involved in inflammation and immune response were perturbed. Additionally, transport mechanisms were misregulated after exposure to TMAT and MES-AuNPs, demonstrating that surface functionalisation influences many molecular pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / drug effects
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects*
  • Gene Regulatory Networks / drug effects
  • Gold / chemistry
  • Gold / metabolism
  • Gold / toxicity*
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Mercaptoethanol / analogs & derivatives
  • Mercaptoethanol / toxicity
  • Mesna / toxicity
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Metal Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Particle Size
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds / toxicity
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds / toxicity
  • Surface Properties
  • Time Factors
  • Zebrafish / embryology
  • Zebrafish / genetics*
  • Zebrafish / metabolism


  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds
  • Sulfhydryl Compounds
  • Mercaptoethanol
  • Gold
  • ethanethiol
  • Mesna