Nanoparticles in foods? A multiscale physiopathological investigation of iron oxide nanoparticle effects on rats after an acute oral exposure: Trace element biodistribution and cognitive capacities

Food Chem Toxicol. 2019 May;127:173-181. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2019.03.006. Epub 2019 Mar 14.


Iron Oxide Nanoparticles (IONPs) are used in several fields of application, mainly in the biomedical field for their magnetic properties and in food additive known as "E172" for their colour. In the present investigation, we focused on IONP effects on Wistar rat following acute oral exposure. We performed a multiscale physiopathological investigation in order to elucidate potential toxic effects linked to IONP ingestion, especially on cognitive capacities, trace element distribution, blood constituents, organ functions, organ structure and iron deposit. We demonstrated that oral exposure to IONPs induces disturbances of certain parameters depending on the dose. Interestingly, the histopathological examination evidenced inflammatory effects of IONPs in the liver with iron deposits in hepatocytes and Kuppfer cells. Neurobehavioral examination showed that oral exposure to IONPs did not affect nor rat emotions, exploration and locomotion capacities, nor spatial reference memory status. Furthermore, oral administration of IONPs did not disrupt the trace element homeostasis nor in the liver neither in the stomach. Altogether, our study evidenced low signs of toxicity, but some effects lead us to a careful use of these NPs. Thereby, their use in foods should be further studied to better evaluate the potential toxic risks of the oral exposure to IONPs.

Keywords: Iron oxide nanoparticles; Oral gavage; Physiopathology; Rat; Toxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Body Weight / drug effects
  • Clinical Chemistry Tests
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Dietary Exposure*
  • Ferric Compounds / analysis*
  • Ferric Compounds / chemistry
  • Ferric Compounds / pharmacokinetics*
  • Hematologic Tests
  • Homeostasis
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / pathology
  • Male
  • Metal Nanoparticles* / chemistry
  • Organ Size / drug effects
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Toxicity Tests, Acute / methods
  • Trace Elements / pharmacokinetics*


  • Ferric Compounds
  • Trace Elements
  • ferric oxide