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Arch Toxicol. 2011 Jun;85(6):695-704. doi: 10.1007/s00204-010-0608-7. Epub 2010 Oct 12.

Cytotoxicity of zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles is influenced by cell density and culture format.

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Division of Materials Science, School of Materials Science and Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, N3-B4-W310, Nanyang Avenue, 639798, Singapore, Singapore.


A parameter that has often been overlooked in cytotoxicity assays is the density and confluency of mammalian cell monolayers utilized for toxicology screening. Hence, this study investigated how different cell seeding densities influenced their response to cytotoxic challenge with ZnO nanoparticles. Utilizing the same volume (1 ml per well) and concentration range (5-40 μg/ml) of ZnO nanoparticles, contradictory results were observed with higher-density cell monolayers (BEAS-2B cells) obtained either by increasing the number of seeded cells per well (50,000 vs. 200,000 cells per well of 12-well plate) or by seeding the same numbers of cells (50,000) within a smaller surface area (12-well vs. 48-well plate, 4.8 vs. 1.2 cm(2), respectively). Further experiments demonstrated that the data may be skewed by inconsistency in the mass/number of nanoparticles per unit area of culture surface, as well as by inconsistent nanoparticle to cell ratio. To keep these parameters constant, the same number of cells (50,000 per well) were seeded on 12-well plates, but with the cells being seeded at the edge of the well for the experimental group (by tilting the plate) to form a dense confluent monolayer, as opposed to a sparse monolayer for the control group seeded in the conventional manner. Utilizing such an experimental set-up for the comparative evaluation of four different cell lines (BEAS-2B, L-929, CRL-2922 and C2C12), it was observed that the high cell density monolayer was consistently more resistant to the cytotoxic effects of ZnO nanoparticles compared to the sparse monolayer for all four different cell types, with the greatest differences being observed above a ZnO concentration of 10 μg/ml. Hence, the results of this study demonstrate the need for the standardization of cell culture protocols utilized for toxicology screening of nanoparticles, with respect to cell density and mass/number of nanoparticles per unit area of culture surface.

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