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      A dose-controlled system for air-liquid interface cell exposure and application to zinc oxide nanoparticles

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          Engineered nanoparticles are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and their toxicological effects on human health, as well as on the ecosystem, have become a concern. Since initial contact with nanoparticles occurs at the epithelium in the lungs (or skin, or eyes), in vitro cell studies with nanoparticles require dose-controlled systems for delivery of nanoparticles to epithelial cells cultured at the air-liquid interface.


          A novel air-liquid interface cell exposure system (ALICE) for nanoparticles in liquids is presented and validated. The ALICE generates a dense cloud of droplets with a vibrating membrane nebulizer and utilizes combined cloud settling and single particle sedimentation for fast (~10 min; entire exposure), repeatable (<12%), low-stress and efficient delivery of nanoparticles, or dissolved substances, to cells cultured at the air-liquid interface. Validation with various types of nanoparticles (Au, ZnO and carbon black nanoparticles) and solutes (such as NaCl) showed that the ALICE provided spatially uniform deposition (<1.6% variability) and had no adverse effect on the viability of a widely used alveolar human epithelial-like cell line (A549). The cell deposited dose can be controlled with a quartz crystal microbalance (QCM) over a dynamic range of at least 0.02-200 μg/cm 2. The cell-specific deposition efficiency is currently limited to 0.072 (7.2% for two commercially available 6-er transwell plates), but a deposition efficiency of up to 0.57 (57%) is possible for better cell coverage of the exposure chamber.

          Dose-response measurements with ZnO nanoparticles (0.3-8.5 μg/cm 2) showed significant differences in mRNA expression of pro-inflammatory (IL-8) and oxidative stress (HO-1) markers when comparing submerged and air-liquid interface exposures. Both exposure methods showed no cellular response below 1 μg/cm 2 ZnO, which indicates that ZnO nanoparticles are not toxic at occupationally allowed exposure levels.


          The ALICE is a useful tool for dose-controlled nanoparticle (or solute) exposure of cells at the air-liquid interface. Significant differences between cellular response after ZnO nanoparticle exposure under submerged and air-liquid interface conditions suggest that pharmaceutical and toxicological studies with inhaled (nano-)particles should be performed under the more realistic air-liquid interface, rather than submerged cell conditions.

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          Most cited references 30

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          Comparison of the mechanism of toxicity of zinc oxide and cerium oxide nanoparticles based on dissolution and oxidative stress properties.

          Nanomaterials (NM) exhibit novel physicochemical properties that determine their interaction with biological substrates and processes. Three metal oxide nanoparticles that are currently being produced in high tonnage, TiO(2), ZnO, and CeO(2), were synthesized by flame spray pyrolysis process and compared in a mechanistic study to elucidate the physicochemical characteristics that determine cellular uptake, subcellular localization, and toxic effects based on a test paradigm that was originally developed for oxidative stress and cytotoxicity in RAW 264.7 and BEAS-2B cell lines. ZnO induced toxicity in both cells, leading to the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), oxidant injury, excitation of inflammation, and cell death. Using ICP-MS and fluorescent-labeled ZnO, it is found that ZnO dissolution could happen in culture medium and endosomes. Nondissolved ZnO nanoparticles enter caveolae in BEAS-2B but enter lysosomes in RAW 264.7 cells in which smaller particle remnants dissolve. In contrast, fluorescent-labeled CeO(2) nanoparticles were taken up intact into caveolin-1 and LAMP-1 positive endosomal compartments, respectively, in BEAS-2B and RAW 264.7 cells, without inflammation or cytotoxicity. Instead, CeO(2) suppressed ROS production and induced cellular resistance to an exogenous source of oxidative stress. Fluorescent-labeled TiO(2) was processed by the same uptake pathways as CeO(2) but did not elicit any adverse or protective effects. These results demonstrate that metal oxide nanoparticles induce a range of biological responses that vary from cytotoxic to cytoprotective and can only be properly understood by using a tiered test strategy such as we developed for oxidative stress and adapted to study other aspects of nanoparticle toxicity.
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            Particokinetics in vitro: dosimetry considerations for in vitro nanoparticle toxicity assessments.

            The rapid growth in the use of in vitro methods for nanoparticle toxicity assessment has proceeded with limited consideration of the unique kinetics of these materials in solution. Particles in general and nanoparticles specifically, diffuse, settle, and agglomerate in cell culture media as a function of systemic and particle properties: media density and viscosity and particle size, shape, charge and density, for example. Cellular dose then is also a function of these factors as they determine the rate of transport of nanoparticles to cells in culture. Here we develop and apply the principles of dosimetry in vitro and outline an approach for simulation of nanoparticle particokinetics in cell culture systems. We illustrate that where equal mass concentrations (mug/ml) imply equal doses for dissimilar materials, the corresponding particle number or surface area concentration doses differ by orders of magnitude. More importantly, when rates of diffusional and gravitational particle delivery are accounted for, trends and magnitude of the cellular dose as a function of particle size and density differ significantly from those implied by "concentration" doses. For example, 15-nm silver nanoparticles appear approximately 4000 times more potent than micron-sized cadmium oxide particles on a cm(2)/ml media basis, but are only approximately 50 times more potent when differences in delivery to adherent cells are considered. We conclude that simple surrogates of dose can cause significant misinterpretation of response and uptake data for nanoparticles in vitro. Incorporating particokinetics and principles of dosimetry would significantly improve the basis for nanoparticle toxicity assessment, increasing the predictive power and scalability of such assays.
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              A continuous tumor-cell line from a human lung carcinoma with properties of type II alveolar epithelial cells.

               M Lieber,  G Todaro,  A Szakal (1976)
              The A549 tumor-cell line, initiated from a human alveolar cell carcinoma, has been continuously propagated in vitro for more than 3 years (more than 1,000 cell generations). These cells have a human karyotype and appear to have been derived from a single parent cell. All A549 cells examined by electron microscopy at both early and late passage levels contain multilamellar cytoplasmic inclusion bodies typical of those found in type II alveolar epithelial cells of the lung. At early and late passage levels, the cells synthesize lecithin with a high percentage of disaturated fatty acids utilizing the cytidine diphosphocholine pathway; such a pattern of phospholipid synthesis is expected for cells believed to be responsible for pulmonary surfactant synthesis. The A549 cell line should permit in vitro analysis of human surfactant synthesis and secretion and possibly provide a source of human surfactant for therapeutic intervention in pulmonary disease states characterized by surfactant deficiency.

                Author and article information

                Part Fibre Toxicol
                Particle and Fibre Toxicology
                BioMed Central
                16 December 2009
                : 6
                : 32
                [1 ]Helmholtz Zentrum München, German Research Center for Environmental Health, Institute of Lung Biology and Disease, Ingolstaedter Landstrasse 1, D-85758 Neuherberg, Germany
                [2 ]University of Bern, Institute of Anatomy, Division of Histology, Baltzerstrasse 2, CH-3000 Bern 9, Switzerland
                Copyright ©2009 Lenz et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.




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