Silver nanoparticles inhibit beige fat function and promote adiposity

Mol Metab. 2019 Apr;22:1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2019.01.005. Epub 2019 Jan 24.


Objective: Obesity is a complex chronic disease of high prevalence worldwide. Multiple factors play integral roles in obesity development, with rising interest focusing on the contribution of environmental pollutants frequent in modern society. Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are widely used for bactericidal purpose in various applications in daily life. However, their potential toxicity and contribution to the obesity epidemic are not clear.

Methods: Beige adipocytes are newly discovered adipocytes characterized by high thermogenic and energy dissipating capacity upon activation and the "browning" process. In the present study, we assess the impact of AgNPs exposure on beige adipocytes differentiation and functionality both in vitro and in vivo. We also systematically investigate the influence of AgNPs on adiposity and metabolic performance in mice, as well as the possible underlying molecular mechanism.

Results: The results showed that, independent of particle size, AgNPs inhibit the adipogenic, mitochondrial, and thermogenic gene programs of beige adipocytes, thus suppressing their differentiation ability, mitochondrial activity, and thermogenic response. Importantly, exposure to AgNPs in mice suppresses browning gene programs in subcutaneous fat, leading to decreased energy expenditure and increased adiposity in mice. Mechanistically, we found that AgNPs increase reactive oxidative species (ROS) levels and specifically activate MAPK-ERK signaling in beige adipocytes. The negative impacts of AgNPs on beige adipocytes can be ameliorated by antioxidant or ERK inhibitor FR180204 treatment.

Conclusions: Taken together, these results revealed an unexpected role of AgNPs in promoting adiposity through the inhibition of beige adipocyte differentiation and functionality, possibly by disrupting ROS homeostasis and ERK phosphorylation. Future assessments on the health risk of AgNPs applications and their safe dosages are warranted.

Keywords: Adiposity; Beige fat; Browning; Energy expenditure; Reactive oxidative species; Silver nanoparticles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipocytes, Beige / drug effects*
  • Adipocytes, Beige / metabolism
  • Adiposity / drug effects*
  • Animals
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Metal Nanoparticles / administration & dosage
  • Metal Nanoparticles / adverse effects
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Mice
  • Obesity / drug therapy
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / analysis
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Silver / administration & dosage
  • Silver / adverse effects
  • Silver / chemistry
  • Silver / pharmacology*


  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Silver