Issue 19, 2015

Genotoxic effects of zinc oxide nanoparticles


The potential toxicity of nanoparticles has currently provoked public and scientific discussions, and attempts to develop generally accepted handling procedures for nanoparticles are under way. The investigation of the impact of nanoparticles on human health is overdue and reliable test systems accounting for the special properties of nanomaterials must be developed. Nanoparticular zinc oxide (ZnO) may be internalised through ambient air or the topical application of cosmetics, only to name a few, with unpredictable health effects. Therefore, we analysed the determinants of ZnO nanoparticle (NP) genotoxicity. ZnO NPs (15–18 nm in diameter) were investigated at concentrations of 0.1, 10 and 100 μg mL−1 using the cell line A549. Internalised NPs were only infrequently detectable by TEM, but strongly increased Zn2+ levels in the cytoplasm and even more in the nuclear fraction, as measured by atom absorption spectroscopy, indicative of an internalised zinc and nuclear accumulation. We observed a time and dosage dependent reduction of cellular viability after ZnO NP exposure. ZnCl2 exposure to cells induced similar impairments of cellular viability. Complexation of Zn2+ with diethylene triamine pentaacetic acid (DTPA) resulted in the loss of toxicity of NPs, indicating the relevant role of Zn2+ for ZnO NP toxicity. Foci analyses showed the induction of DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) by ZnO NPs and increased intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS) levels. Treatment of the cells with the ROS scavenger N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) resulted in strongly decreased intracellular ROS levels and reduced DNA damage. However, a slow increase of ROS after ZnO NP exposure and reduced but not quashed DSBs after NAC-treatment suggest that Zn2+ may exert genotoxic activities without the necessity of preceding ROS-induction. Our data indicate that ZnO NP toxicity is a result of cellular Zn2+ intake. Subsequently increased ROS-levels cause DNA damage. However, we found evidence for the assumption that DNA-DSBs could be caused by Zn2+ without the involvement of ROS.

Graphical abstract: Genotoxic effects of zinc oxide nanoparticles

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
18 Feb 2015
14 Apr 2015
First published
16 Apr 2015

Nanoscale, 2015,7, 8931-8938

Genotoxic effects of zinc oxide nanoparticles

J. Heim, E. Felder, M. N. Tahir, A. Kaltbeitzel, U. R. Heinrich, C. Brochhausen, V. Mailänder, W. Tremel and J. Brieger, Nanoscale, 2015, 7, 8931 DOI: 10.1039/C5NR01167A

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