Presence of nanosilica (E551) in commercial food products: TNF-mediated oxidative stress and altered cell cycle progression in human lung fibroblast cells

Cell Biol Toxicol. 2014 Apr;30(2):89-100. doi: 10.1007/s10565-014-9271-8. Epub 2014 Feb 14.


Silica (E551) is commonly used as an anti-caking agent in food products. The morphology and the dimension of the added silica particles are not, however, usually stated on the food product label. The food industry has adapted nanotechnology using engineered nanoparticles to improve the quality of their products. However, there has been increased debate regarding the health and safety concerns related to the use of engineered nanoparticles in consumer products. In this study, we investigated the morphology and dimensions of silica (E551) particles in food. The silica content of commercial food products was determined using inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry. The result indicates that 2.74-14. 45 μg/g silica was found in commercial food products; however, the daily dietary intake in increase causes adverse effects on human health. E551 was isolated from food products and the morphology, particle size, crystalline nature, and purity of the silica particles were analyzed using XRD, FTIR, TEM, EDX and DLS. The results of these analyses confirmed the presence of spherical silica nanoparticles (of amorphous nature) in food, approximately 10-50 nm in size. The effects of E551 on human lung fibroblast cell viability, intracellular ROS levels, cell cycle phase, and the expression levels of metabolic stress-responsive genes (CAT, GSTA4, TNF, CYP1A, POR, SOD1, GSTM3, GPX1, and GSR1) were studied. The results suggest that E551 induces a dose-dependent cytotoxicity and changes in ROS levels and alters the gene expression and cell cycle. Treatment with a high concentration of E551 caused significant cytotoxic effects on WI-38 cells. These findings have implications for the use of these nanoparticles in the food industry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Cycle / drug effects*
  • Cell Cycle / genetics
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Fibroblasts
  • Food Additives / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Lung / cytology
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Nanoparticles / adverse effects*
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects*
  • Particle Size
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Silicon Dioxide / adverse effects*
  • Silicon Dioxide / pharmacology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism


  • Food Additives
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • TNF protein, human
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Silicon Dioxide