Exposure of cells to colloidal nanoparticles (NPs) can have concentration-dependent harmful effects. Mostly, such effects are monitored with biochemical assays or probes from molecular biology, i.e., viability assays, gene expression profiles, etc., neglecting that the presence of NPs can also drastically affect cellular morphology. In the case of polymer-coated Au NPs, we demonstrate that upon NP internalization, cells undergo lysosomal swelling, alterations in mitochondrial morphology, disturbances in actin and tubulin cytoskeleton and associated signaling, and reduction of focal adhesion contact area and number of filopodia. Appropriate imaging and data treatment techniques allow for quantitative analyses of these concentration-dependent changes. Abnormalities in morphology occur at similar (or even lower) NP concentrations as the onset of reduced cellular viability. Cellular morphology is thus an important quantitative indicator to verify harmful effects of NPs to cells, without requiring biochemical assays, but relying on appropriate staining and imaging techniques.
Keywords: Au NPs; cellular morphology; cellular response; cytotoxicity; nanoparticles; viability.