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Environ Sci Technol. 2013 Apr 2;47(7):3268-74. doi: 10.1021/es304346p. Epub 2013 Mar 13.

Quantification of the uptake of silver nanoparticles and ions to HepG2 cells.

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State Key Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, PO Box 2871, Beijing 100085, China.


The toxic mechanism of silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) is still debating, partially because of the common co-occurrence and the lack of methods for separation of AgNPs and Ag(+) in biological matrices. For the first time, Triton-X 114-based cloud point extraction (CPE) was proposed to separate AgNPs and Ag(+) in the cell lysates of exposed HepG2 cells. Cell lysates were subjected to CPE after adding Na2S2O3, which facilitated the transfer of AgNPs into the nether Triton X-114-rich phase by salt effect and the preserve of Ag(+) in the upper aqueous phase through the formation of hydrophilic complex. Then the AgNP and Ag(+) contents in the exposed cells were determined by ICP-MS after microwave digestion of the two phases, respectively. Under the optimized conditions, over 67% of AgNPs in cell lysates were extracted into the Triton X-114-rich phase while 94% of Ag(+) remained in the aqueous phase, and the limits of detection for AgNPs and Ag(+) were 2.94 μg/L and 2.40 μg/L, respectively. This developed analytical method was applied to quantify the uptake of AgNPs to the HepG2 cells. After exposure to 10 mg/L AgNPs for 24 h, about 67.8 ng Ag were assimilated per 10(4) cells, in which about 10.3% silver existed as Ag(+). Compared to the pristine AgNPs (with 5.2% Ag(+)) for exposure, the higher ratio of Ag(+) to AgNPs in the exposed cells (10.3% Ag(+)) suggests the transformation of AgNPs into Ag(+) in the cells and/or the higher uptake rate of Ag(+) than that of AgNPs. Given that the toxicity of Ag(+) is much higher than that of AgNPs, the substantial content of Ag(+) in the exposed cells suggests that the contribution of Ag(+) should be taken into account in evaluating the toxicity of AgNPs to organisms, and previous results obtained by regarding the total Ag content in organisms as AgNPs should be reconsidered.

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