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Toxicol In Vitro. 2009 Sep;23(6):1076-84. doi: 10.1016/j.tiv.2009.06.001. Epub 2009 Jun 7.

Oxidative stress-dependent toxicity of silver nanoparticles in human hepatoma cells.

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  • 1College of Veterinary Medicine, Seoul National University, Seoul 151-742, Republic of Korea.


Cytotoxicity induced by silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) and the role that oxidative stress plays in this process were demonstrated in human hepatoma cells. Toxicity induced by silver (Ag(+)) ions was studied in parallel using AgNO(3) as the Ag(+) ion source. Using cation exchange treatment, we confirmed that the AgNP solution contained a negligible amount of free Ag(+) ions. Metal-responsive metallothionein 1b (MT1b) mRNA expression was not induced in AgNP-treated cells, while it was induced in AgNO(3)-treated cells. These results indicate that AgNP-treated cells have limited exposure to Ag(+) ions, despite the potential release of Ag(+) ions from AgNPs in cell culture. AgNPs agglomerated in the cytoplasm and nuclei of treated cells, and induced intracellular oxidative stress. AgNPs exhibited cytotoxicity with a potency comparable to that of Ag(+) ions in in vitro cytotoxicity assays. However, the toxicity of AgNPs was prevented by use of the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine, and AgNP-induced DNA damage was also prevented by N-acetylcysteine. AgNO(3) treatment induced oxidative stress-related glutathione peroxidase 1 (GPx1) and catalase expression to a greater extent than AgNP exposure, but treatment with AgNO(3) and AgNPs induced comparable superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) expression levels. Our findings suggest that AgNP cytotoxicity is primarily the result of oxidative stress and is independent of the toxicity of Ag(+) ions.

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