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Toxicol Sci. 2006 Jul;92(1):174-85. Epub 2006 Apr 12.

Correlating nanoscale titania structure with toxicity: a cytotoxicity and inflammatory response study with human dermal fibroblasts and human lung epithelial cells.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA.


Nanocrystalline titanium dioxide (nano-TiO(2)) is an important material used in commerce today. When designed appropriately it can generate reactive species (RS) quite efficiently, particularly under ultraviolet (UV) illumination; this feature is exploited in applications ranging from self-cleaning glass to low-cost solar cells. In this study, we characterize the toxicity of this important class of nanomaterials under ambient (e.g., no significant light illumination) conditions in cell culture. Only at relatively high concentrations (100 microg/ml) of nanoscale titania did we observe cytotoxicity and inflammation; these cellular responses exhibited classic dose-response behavior, and the effects increased with time of exposure. The extent to which nanoscale titania affected cellular behavior was not dependent on sample surface area in this study; smaller nanoparticlulate materials had effects comparable to larger nanoparticle materials. What did correlate strongly to cytotoxicity, however, was the phase composition of the nanoscale titania. Anatase TiO(2), for example, was 100 times more toxic than an equivalent sample of rutile TiO(2). The most cytotoxic nanoparticle samples were also the most effective at generating reactive oxygen species; ex vivo RS species generation under UV illumination correlated well with the observed biological response. These data suggest that nano-TiO(2) samples optimized for RS production in photocatalysis are also more likely to generate damaging RS species in cell culture. The result highlights the important role that ex vivo measures of RS production can play in developing screens for cytotoxicity.

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