Issue 12, 2023

Development of single-cell ICP-TOFMS to measure nanoplastics association with human cells


Nanoplastics, solid polymer particles smaller than 1 μm, are suspected to be widely present in the environment, food and air, and may pose a potential threat to human health. Detecting nanoplastics in and associated with individual cells is crucial to understand their mechanisms of toxicity and potential harm. In this context, we developed a single-cell inductively coupled plasma time-of-flight mass spectrometry (sc-ICP-TOFMS) method for the sensitive and rapid quantification of metal-doped model nanoplastics in human cells. By providing multi-elemental fingerprints of both the nanoplastics and the cells, this approach can be advantageous in laboratory toxicological studies as it allows for the simultaneous acquisition of a full mass spectrum with high time resolution. As a proof-of-concept study, we exposed two different human cell lines relevant to inhalation exposures (A549 alveolar epithelial cells and THP-1 monocytes) to Pd-doped nanoplastics. The sc-ICP-TOFMS analysis revealed a similar dose-dependent endocytotic capacity of THP-1 and A549 cells for nanoplastics uptake, and particle internalization was confirmed by transmission electron microscopy. Moreover, single-cell quantification showed that a considerable proportion of the exposed cells (72% of THP-1; 67% of A549) did not associate with any nanoplastics after exposure to 50 μg L−1 for 24 h. This highlights the importance to include single-cell analysis in the future safety assessment of nanoplastics in order to account for heterogeneous uptake within cell populations and to identify the origins and response trajectories of nanoplastics in biological tissues. In this regard, sc-ICP-TOFMS can be a powerful approach to provide quantitative data on nanoplastics–cell associations at single cell level for a large number of individual cells.

Graphical abstract: Development of single-cell ICP-TOFMS to measure nanoplastics association with human cells

Supplementary files

Article information

Article type
25 Sep 2023
31 Oct 2023
First published
09 Nov 2023
This article is Open Access
Creative Commons BY license

Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2023,10, 3439-3449

Development of single-cell ICP-TOFMS to measure nanoplastics association with human cells

L. Hendriks, V. M. Kissling, T. Buerki-Thurnherr and D. M. Mitrano, Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2023, 10, 3439 DOI: 10.1039/D3EN00681F

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