With the development of nanotechnology, a growing number of people are expected to be exposed to its products, the engineered nanomaterials (ENMs). Some physico-chemical properties of ENMs, linked to their size in the nanoscale (1–100 nm), make them potentially more reactive, and therefore raise concern about possible adverse effects in humans. In this article, I discuss human diseases which may be predicted after exposure to ENMs, and how their pathogenetic mechanisms may be linked to exposure; in this regard, special emphasis has been given to the triad of oxidative stress/inflammation/genotoxicity and to the interaction of ENMs/proteins in different biological compartments. The analysis of possible adverse effects has been made on an organ-by-organ basis, starting from the skin, respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract. These sites are in fact not only those exposed to the highest amounts of ENMs, but are also the portals of entry to internal organs for possible systemic effects. Although the list and the relevance of possible human disorders linked to ENM exposure are at least as impressive as that of their direct or indirect beneficial effects for human health, we must be clear that ENM-linked diseases belong to the realm of possible risk (i.e. cannot be excluded, but are unlikely), whereas ENMs with proven beneficial effects are on the market. Therefore, the mandatory awareness about possible adverse effects of ENMs should in no way be interpreted as a motivation to disregard the great opportunity represented by nanotechnology.
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