Cytotoxicity of Plant-Mediated Synthesis of Metallic Nanoparticles: A Systematic Review

Int J Mol Sci. 2018 Jun 11;19(6):1725. doi: 10.3390/ijms19061725.


In the field of medicine, nanomaterials, especially those derived using the green method, offer promise as anti-cancer agents and drug carriers. However, the biosafety of metallic nanoparticles used as anti-cancer agents remains a concern. The goal of this systematic review was to compare the cytotoxicity of different plant-mediated syntheses of metallic nanoparticles based on their potency, therapeutic index, and cancer cell type susceptibility in the hopes of identifying the most promising anti-cancer agents. A literature search of electronic databases including Science Direct, PubMed, Springer Link, Google Scholar, and ResearchGate, was conducted to obtain research articles. Keywords such as biosynthesis, plant synthesis, plant-mediated, metallic nanoparticle, cytotoxicity, and anticancer were used in the literature search. All types of research materials that met the inclusion criteria were included in the study regardless of whether the results were positive, negative, or null. The therapeutic index was used as a safety measure for the studied compound of interest. Data from 76 selected articles were extracted and synthesised. Seventy-two studies reported that the cytotoxicity of plant-mediated synthesis of metallic nanoparticles was time and/or dose-dependent. Biosynthesised silver nanoparticles demonstrated higher cytotoxicity potency compared to gold nanoparticles synthesised by the same plants (Plumbago zeylanica, Commelina nudiflora, and Cassia auriculata) irrespective of the cancer cell type tested. This review also identified a correlation between the nanoparticle size and morphology with the potency of cytotoxicity. Cytotoxicity was found to be inversely proportional to nanoparticle size. The plant-mediated syntheses of metallic nanoparticles were predominantly spherical or quasi-spherical, with the median lethal dose of 1⁻20 µg/mL. Nanoparticles with other shapes (triangular, hexagonal, and rods) were less potent. Metallic nanoparticles synthesised by Abutilon inducum, Butea monosperma, Gossypium hirsutum, Indoneesiella echioides, and Melia azedarach were acceptably safe as anti-cancer agents, as they had a therapeutic index of >2.0 when tested on both cancer cells and normal human cells. Most plant-mediated syntheses of metallic nanoparticles were found to be cytotoxic, although some were non-cytotoxic. The results from this study suggest a focus on a selected list of potential anti-cancer agents for further investigations of their pharmacodynamic/toxicodynamic and pharmacokinetic/toxicokinetic actions with the goal of reducing the Global Burden of Diseases and the second leading cause of mortality.

Keywords: cytotoxicity; metallic nanoparticles; plant; synthesis.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gold / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Metal Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Particle Size
  • Plants / metabolism*


  • Gold