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Small. 2007 Nov;3(11):1941-9.

Size-dependent cytotoxicity of gold nanoparticles.

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Biomedical Engineering, Biointerface Laboratory, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstrasse 30, 52074 Aachen, Germany.


Gold nanoparticles are widely used in biomedical imaging and diagnostic tests. Based on their established use in the laboratory and the chemical stability of Au(0), gold nanoparticles were expected to be safe. The recent literature, however, contains conflicting data regarding the cytotoxicity of gold nanoparticles. Against this background a systematic study of water-soluble gold nanoparticles stabilized by triphenylphosphine derivatives ranging in size from 0.8 to 15 nm is made. The cytotoxicity of these particles in four cell lines representing major functional cell types with barrier and phagocyte function are tested. Connective tissue fibroblasts, epithelial cells, macrophages, and melanoma cells prove most sensitive to gold particles 1.4 nm in size, which results in IC(50) values ranging from 30 to 56 microM depending on the particular 1.4-nm Au compound-cell line combination. In contrast, gold particles 15 nm in size and Tauredon (gold thiomalate) are nontoxic at up to 60-fold and 100-fold higher concentrations, respectively. The cellular response is size dependent, in that 1.4-nm particles cause predominantly rapid cell death by necrosis within 12 h while closely related particles 1.2 nm in diameter effect predominantly programmed cell death by apoptosis.

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