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Nanotoxicology. 2014 Sep;8(6):663-75. doi: 10.3109/17435390.2013.822115. Epub 2013 Jul 31.

Iron oxide nanoparticle agglomeration influences dose rates and modulates oxidative stress-mediated dose-response profiles in vitro.

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Battelle Memorial Institute , Columbus, OH , USA.


Spontaneous agglomeration of engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) is a common problem in cell culture media which can confound interpretation of in vitro nanotoxicity studies. The authors created stable agglomerates of iron oxide nanoparticles (IONPs) in conventional culture medium, which varied in hydrodynamic size (276 nm-1.5 μm) but were composed of identical primary particles with similar surface potentials and protein coatings. Studies using C10 lung epithelial cells show that the dose rate effects of agglomeration can be substantial, varying by over an order of magnitude difference in cellular dose in some cases. Quantification by magnetic particle detection showed that small agglomerates of carboxylated IONPs induced greater cytotoxicity and redox-regulated gene expression when compared with large agglomerates on an equivalent total cellular IONP mass dose basis, whereas agglomerates of amine-modified IONPs failed to induce cytotoxicity or redox-regulated gene expression despite delivery of similar cellular doses. Dosimetry modelling and experimental measurements reveal that on a delivered surface area basis, large and small agglomerates of carboxylated IONPs have similar inherent potency for the generation of ROS, induction of stress-related genes and eventual cytotoxicity. The results suggest that reactive moieties on the agglomerate surface are more efficient in catalysing cellular ROS production than molecules buried within the agglomerate core. Because of the dynamic, size and density-dependent nature of ENP delivery to cells in vitro, the biological consequences of agglomeration are not discernible from static measures of exposure concentration (μg/ml) alone, highlighting the central importance of integrated physical characterisation and quantitative dosimetry for in vitro studies. The combined experimental and computational approach provides a quantitative framework for evaluating relationships between the biocompatibility of nanoparticles and their physical and chemical characteristics.

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