Acellular oxidative potential assay for screening of amorphous silica nanoparticles†
Silica nanoparticles (SiNPs) are used in a wide range of consumer products, engineering and medical applications, with likelihood of human exposure and potential health concerns. It is essential to generate toxicity information on SiNP forms and associated physicochemical determinants to conduct risk assessment on these new materials. To address this knowledge gap, we screened a panel of custom synthesized, well-characterized amorphous SiNPs pristine and surface-modified (–C3-COOH, –C11-COOH, –NH2, –PEG) of 5 different sizes: (15, 30, 50, 75, 100 nm) for their oxidative potential using an acellular assay. The assay is based on oxidation of dithiothreitol (DTT) by reactive oxygen species and can serve as a surrogate test for oxidative stress. These materials were characterized for size distribution, aggregation, crystallinity, surface area, surface modification, surface charge and metal content. Tests for association between oxidative potential of SiNPs and their physicochemical properties were carried out using analysis of variance and correlation analyses. These test results suggest that the size of amorphous SiNPs influenced their oxidative potential irrespective of the surface modification, with 15 nm exhibiting relatively higher oxidative potential compared to the other sizes. Furthermore, SiNP surface area, surface modification and agglomeration in solution also appeared to affect oxidative potential of these SiNPs. These findings indicate that physicochemical properties are critical in influencing the oxidative behaviour of amorphous SiNPs, with potential to trigger cellular oxidative stress and thus toxicity, when exposed. This information advances our understanding of potential toxicities of these amorphous SiNPs and supports risk assessment efforts and the design of safer forms of silica nanomaterials.