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Quantifying engineered nanomaterial toxicity: comparison of common cytotoxicity and gene expression measurements

Atha, D.H., Nagy, A., Steinbrück, A. et al.

Background
When evaluating the toxicity of engineered nanomaterials (ENMS) it is important to use multiple bioassays based on different mechanisms of action. In this regard we evaluated the use of gene expression and common cytotoxicity measurements using as test materials, two selected nanoparticles with known differences in toxicity, 5 nm mercaptoundecanoic acid (MUA)-capped InP and CdSe quantum dots (QDs). We tested the effects of these QDs at concentrations ranging from 0.5 to 160 µg/mL on cultured normal human bronchial epithelial (NHBE) cells using four common cytotoxicity assays: the dichlorofluorescein assay for reactive oxygen species (ROS), the lactate dehydrogenase assay for membrane viability (LDH), the mitochondrial dehydrogenase assay for mitochondrial function, and the Comet assay for DNA strand breaks.

Results
The cytotoxicity assays showed similar trends when exposed to nanoparticles for 24 h at 80 µg/mL with a threefold increase in ROS with exposure to CdSe QDs compared to an insignificant change in ROS levels after exposure to InP QDs, a twofold increase in the LDH necrosis assay in NHBE cells with exposure to CdSe QDs compared to a 50% decrease for InP QDs, a 60% decrease in the mitochondrial function assay upon exposure to CdSe QDs compared to a minimal increase in the case of InP and significant DNA strand breaks after exposure to CdSe QDs compared to no significant DNA strand breaks with InP. High-throughput quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) data for cells exposed for 6 h at a concentration of 80 µg/mL were consistent with the cytotoxicity assays showing major differences in DNA damage, DNA repair and mitochondrial function gene regulatory responses to the CdSe and InP QDs. The BRCA2, CYP1A1, CYP1B1, CDK1, SFN and VEGFA genes were observed to be upregulated specifically from increased CdSe exposure and suggests their possible utility as biomarkers for toxicity.

Conclusions
This study can serve as a model for comparing traditional cytotoxicity assays and gene expression measurements and to determine candidate biomarkers for assessing the biocompatibility of ENMs.

Citation

Atha, D.H., Nagy, A., Steinbrück, A. et al. "Quantifying engineered nanomaterial toxicity: comparison of common cytotoxicity and gene expression measurements" Journal of Nanobiotechnology (2017): 79