Copper nanoparticle-induced uterine injury in female rats

Environ Toxicol. 2019 Mar;34(3):252-261. doi: 10.1002/tox.22680. Epub 2018 Dec 16.


Copper nanoparticles (Cu-NPs) have been used increasingly in various products and applications. Although recent studies have reported that exposure to Cu-NPs leads to organ accumulation and obvious toxicity, it remains unclear whether Cu-NPs can be translocated to and cause damage in the uterus. In this study, we investigated the potential for uterine injury and gene expression patterns in female rats exposed to 3.12, 6.25, or 12.5 mg/kg/d Cu-NPs via intraperitoneal injection for 14 consecutive days. The results indicated that exposure to Cu-NPs led to significant decreases in the relative uterine weight coefficients and increases in inflammatory cell infiltration, mitochondrial swelling and vacuolization, shortened and reduced endometrial epithelial cell microvilli, and apoptosis. Furthermore, exposure to Cu-NPs increased malondialdehyde (MDA) accumulation and decreased superoxide dismutase (SOD) levels. Signal transduction mechanism studies indicated that exposure to Cu-NPs activated caspases 3, 8, and 9 and BH3 interacting domain death agonist (tBid), reduced B cell leukemia/lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) expression, and increased the expression of apoptotic peptidase activating factor 1 (Apaf-1), BCL2-associated X, apoptosis regulator (Bax), and cytochrome c. A microarray analysis revealed significant alterations in the expression of 963 genes; of these, 622 were upregulated and 341 were downregulated. The results of further evaluations of some altered genes, including matrix metallopeptidase 12 (Mmp12), using quantitative RT-PCR agreed with the microarray findings. These results provide strong evidence that Cu-NPs can trigger both intrinsic and extrinsic apoptotic pathways to mediate uterine injury, resulting in oxidative stress-related changes in gene expression.

Keywords: Cu-NPs; apoptosis; microarray; rat; uterus.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Caspases / genetics
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Copper / toxicity*
  • Cytochromes c / metabolism
  • Female
  • Malondialdehyde / metabolism
  • Metal Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism
  • Uterus / drug effects*
  • Uterus / injuries*
  • Uterus / metabolism


  • Malondialdehyde
  • Copper
  • Cytochromes c
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Caspases