The Size-dependent Cytotoxicity of Amorphous Silica Nanoparticles: A Systematic Review of in vitro Studies

Int J Nanomedicine. 2020 Nov 18:15:9089-9113. doi: 10.2147/IJN.S276105. eCollection 2020.


With the increasing production and application of engineered amorphous silica nanoparticles (aSiNPs), people have more opportunities to be exposed to aSiNPs. However, the knowledge of its adverse health effects and related mechanisms is still limited, compared with the well-studied crystalline micron-sized silica. Since small differences in the physical-chemical properties of nanoparticles could cause significant differences in the toxic effect, it is important to distinguish how these variations influence the outcoming toxicity. Notably, particle size, as one of the essential characterizations of aSiNPs, is relevant to its biological activities. Thus, the aim of this systematic review was to summarize the relationship between the particle size of aSiNPs and its adverse biological effects. In order to avoid the influence of complicated in vivo experimental conditions on the toxic outcome, only in vitro toxicity studies which reported on the cytotoxic effect of different sizes aSiNPs were included. After the systematic literature retrieval, selection, and quality assessment process, 76 eligible scientific papers were finally included in this review. There were 76% of the studies that concluded a size-dependent cytotoxicity of aSiNPs, in which smaller-sized aSiNPs possessed greater toxicity. However, this trend could be modified by certain influence factors, such as the synthetic method of aSiNPs, particle aggregation state in cell culture medium, toxicity endpoint detection method, and some other experimental conditions. The effects of these influence factors on the size-dependent cytotoxicity of aSiNPs were also discussed in detail in the present review.

Keywords: cell death; cytotoxicity; influence factors; nanotoxicology; particle size; silica nanoparticles.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / toxicity*
  • Particle Size
  • Silicon Dioxide / chemistry*
  • Silicon Dioxide / toxicity
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Silicon Dioxide