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Swiss Med Wkly. 2008 Jul 12;138(27-28):387-91. doi: 2008/27/smw-12153.

Translocation and cellular entering mechanisms of nanoparticles in the respiratory tract.

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Institute of Anatomy, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


Anthropogenic nano-sized particles (NSP), ie, particles with a diameter of less than 100 nm, are generated with or without purpose as chemically and physically well-defined materials or as a consequence of combustion processes respectively. Inhalation of NSP occurs on a regular basis due to air pollution and is associated with an increase in respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Manufactured NSP may intentionally be inhaled as pharmaceuticals or unintentionally during production at the workplace. Hence the interactions of NSP with the respiratory tract are currently under intensive investigation. Due to special physicochemical features of NSP, its biological behaviour may differ from that of larger sized particles. Here we review two important themes of current research into the effects of NSP on the lungs: 1) The potential of NSP to cross the blood-air barrier of the lungs, thus gaining access to the circulation and extrapulmonary organs. It is currently accepted that a small fraction of inhaled NSP may translocate to the circulation. The significance of this translocation requires further research. 2) The entering mechanisms of NSP into different cell types. There is evidence that NSP are taken up by cells via well-known pathways of endocytosis but also via different mechanisms not well understood so far. Knowledge of the quantitative relationship between the different entering mechanisms and cellular responses is not yet available but is urgently needed in order to understand the effects of intentionally or unintentionally inhaled NSP on the respiratory tract.

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