Investigating the Cellular Uptake of Model Nanoplastics by Single-Cell ICP-MS

Nanomaterials (Basel). 2023 Feb 1;13(3):594. doi: 10.3390/nano13030594.


A synthetic route to producing gold-doped environmentally relevant nanoplastics and a method for the rapid and high-throughput qualitative investigation of their cellular interactions have been developed. Polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) nanoparticles, doped with ultrasmall gold nanoparticles, were synthesized via an oil-in-water emulsion technique as models for floating and sedimenting nanoplastics, respectively. Gold nanoparticles were chosen as a dopant as they are considered to be chemically stable, relatively easy to obtain, interference-free for elemental analysis, and suitable for bio-applications. The suitability of the doped particles for quick detection via inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), operating in single-cell mode (scICP-MS), was demonstrated. Specifically, the method was applied to the analysis of nanoplastics in sizes ranging from 50 to 350 nm, taking advantage of the low limit of detection of single-cell ICP-MS for gold nanoparticles. As an initial proof of concept, gold-doped PVC and PE nanoplastics were employed to quantify the interaction and uptake of nanoplastics by the RAW 264.7 mouse macrophage cell line, using scICP-MS and electron microscopy. Macrophages were chosen because their natural biological functions would make them likely to internalize nanoplastics and, thus, would produce samples to verify the test methodology. Finally, the method was applied to assess the uptake by CaCo-2 human intestinal cells, this being a more relevant model for humanexposure to those nanoplastics that are potentially available in the food chain. For both case studies, two concentrations of nanoplastics were employed to simulate both standard environmental conditions and exceptional circumstances, such as pollution hotspot areas.

Keywords: cell interaction; electron microscopy; nanoplastics; single-cell ICP-MS.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding. This work was performed within the JRC exploratory project, “MIMO: Microplastics in Microorganisms”.