Cytotoxicity of Nanoparticles Contained in Food on Intestinal Cells and the Gut Microbiota

Int J Mol Sci. 2016 Apr 6;17(4):509. doi: 10.3390/ijms17040509.


Toxicity of nanoparticles (NPs) upon oral exposure has been studied in animals using physiological changes, behavior, histology, and blood analysis for evaluation. The effects recorded include the combination of the action on cells of the exposed animal and the reaction of the microorganisms that populate the external and internal surfaces of the body. The importance of these microorganisms, collectively termed as microbiota, for the health of the host has been widely recognized. They may also influence toxicity of NPs but these effects are difficult to differentiate from toxicity on cells of the gastrointestinal tract. To estimate the likelihood of preferential damage of the microbiota by NPs the relative sensitivity of enterocytes and bacteria was compared. For this comparison NPs with antimicrobial action present in consumer products were chosen. The comparison of cytotoxicity with Escherichia coli as representative for intestinal bacteria and on gastrointestinal cells revealed that silver NPs damaged bacteria at lower concentrations than enterocytes, while the opposite was true for zinc oxide NPs. These results indicate that silver NPs may cause adverse effects by selectively affecting the gut microbiota. Fecal transplantation from NP-exposed animals to unexposed ones offers the possibility to verify this hypothesis.

Keywords: antimicrobial effects; cytotoxicity; nanotoxicology; silver; zinc oxide.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Infective Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Infective Agents / toxicity*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Enterocytes / drug effects*
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Nanoparticles / adverse effects
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Silver / adverse effects
  • Silver / chemistry
  • Silver / toxicity*
  • Zinc Oxide / adverse effects
  • Zinc Oxide / chemistry
  • Zinc Oxide / toxicity*


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Silver
  • Zinc Oxide