Effects of Titanium Dioxide (TiO2 ) Nanoparticles on Caribbean Reef-Building Coral (Montastraea Faveolata)

Environ Toxicol Chem. 2014 Jun;33(6):1346-53. doi: 10.1002/etc.2560. Epub 2014 Apr 22.


Increased use of manufactured titanium dioxide nanoparticles (nano-TiO2 ) is causing a rise in their concentration in the aquatic environment, including coral reef ecosystems. Caribbean mountainous star coral (Montastraea faveolata) has frequently been used as a model species to study gene expression during stress and bleaching events. Specimens of M. faveolata were collected in Panama and exposed for 17 d to nano-TiO2 suspensions (0.1 mg L(-1) and 10 mg L(-1) ). Exposure to nano-TiO2 caused significant zooxanthellae expulsion in all the colonies, without mortality. Induction of the gene for heat-shock protein 70 (HSP70) was observed during an early stage of exposure (day 2), indicating acute stress. However, there was no statistical difference in HSP70 expression on day 7 or 17, indicating possible coral acclimation and recovery from stress. No other genes were significantly upregulated. Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry analysis revealed that nano-TiO2 was predominantly trapped and stored within the posterior layer of the coral fragment (burrowing sponges, bacterial and fungal mats). The bioconcentration factor in the posterior layer was close to 600 after exposure to 10 mg L(-1) of nano-TiO2 for 17 d. The transient increase in HSP70, expulsion of zooxanthellae, and bioaccumulation of nano-TiO2 in the microflora of the coral colony indicate the potential of such exposure to induce stress and possibly contribute to an overall decrease in coral populations.

Keywords: Coral; Titanium dioxide nanoparticles; Toxicology; Zooxanthellae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthozoa / drug effects*
  • Anthozoa / genetics
  • Anthozoa / physiology
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Dinoflagellida / drug effects
  • Ecotoxicology*
  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Panama
  • Particle Size
  • Stress, Physiological / drug effects
  • Stress, Physiological / genetics
  • Titanium / chemistry*
  • Titanium / toxicity*
  • Transcriptional Activation / drug effects


  • HSP70 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • titanium dioxide
  • Titanium