Nanoparticle-induced neuronal toxicity across placental barriers is mediated by autophagy and dependent on astrocytes

Nat Nanotechnol. 2018 May;13(5):427-433. doi: 10.1038/s41565-018-0085-3. Epub 2018 Apr 2.


The potential for maternal nanoparticle (NP) exposures to cause developmental toxicity in the fetus without the direct passage of NPs has previously been shown, but the mechanism remained elusive. We now demonstrate that exposure of cobalt and chromium NPs to BeWo cell barriers, an in vitro model of the human placenta, triggers impairment of the autophagic flux and release of interleukin-6. This contributes to the altered differentiation of human neural progenitor cells and DNA damage in the derived neurons and astrocytes. Crucially, neuronal DNA damage is mediated by astrocytes. Inhibiting the autophagic degradation in the BeWo barrier by overexpression of the dominant-negative human ATG4BC74A significantly reduces the levels of DNA damage in astrocytes. In vivo, indirect NP toxicity in mice results in neurodevelopmental abnormalities with reactive astrogliosis and increased DNA damage in the fetal hippocampus. Our results demonstrate the potential importance of autophagy to elicit NP toxicity and the risk of indirect developmental neurotoxicity after maternal NP exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Astrocytes / pathology
  • Cell Line
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / chemically induced
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / metabolism
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / pathology
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / metabolism*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / pathology
  • Placenta / pathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / chemically induced
  • Pregnancy Complications / metabolism*
  • Pregnancy Complications / pathology