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Mutat Res. 2009 Mar-Jun;681(2-3):241-58. doi: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2008.10.002. Epub 2008 Nov 11.

Genotoxicity investigations on nanomaterials: methods, preparation and characterization of test material, potential artifacts and limitations--many questions, some answers.

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  • 1Department of Product Safety, BASF SE, 67056 Ludwigshafen, Germany.


Nanomaterials display novel properties to which most toxicologists have not consciously been exposed before the advent of their practical use. The same properties, small size and particular shape, large surface area and surface activity, which make nanomaterials attractive in many applications, may contribute to their toxicological profile. This review describes what is known about genotoxicity investigations on nanomaterials published in the openly available scientific literature to-date. The most frequently used test was the Comet assay: 19 studies, 14 with positive outcome. The second most frequently used test was the micronucleus test: 14 studies, 12 of them with positive outcome. The Ames test, popular with other materials, was less frequently used (6 studies) and was almost always negative, the bacterial cell wall possibly being a barrier for many nanomaterials. Recommendations for improvements emerging from analyzing the reports summarized in this review are: Know what nanomaterial has been tested (and in what form); Consider uptake and distribution of the nanomaterial; Use standardized methods; Recognize that nanomaterials are not all the same; Use in vivo studies to correlate in vitro results; Take nanomaterials specific properties into account; Learn about the mechanism of nanomaterials genotoxic effects. It is concluded that experiences with other, non-nano, substances (molecules and larger particles) taught us that mechanisms of genotoxic effects can be diverse and their elucidation can be demanding, while there often is an immediate need to assess the genotoxic hazard. Thus a practical, pragmatic approach is the use of a battery of standard genotoxicity testing methods covering a wide range of mechanisms. Application of these standard methods to nanomaterials demands adaptations and the interpretation of results from the genotoxicity tests may need additional considerations. This review should help to improve standard genotoxicity testing as well as investigations on the underlying mechanism and the interpretation of genotoxicity data on nanomaterials.

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