• Article

Assessing toxicity of fine and nanoparticles: Comparing in vitro measurements to In vivo pulmonary toxicity profiles

Previous studies have reported little correlation between the relative toxicity of particle types when comparing lung toxicity rankings following in vivo instillation versus in vitro cell culture exposures. This study was designed to assess the capacity of in vitro screening studies to predict in vivo pulmonary toxicity of several fine or nanoscale particle types in rats. In the in vivo component of the study, rats were exposed by intratracheal instillation to 1 or 5 mg/kg of the following particle types: (1) carbonyl iron (CI), (2) crystalline silica (CS) (Min-U-Sil 5, ?-quartz), (3) precipitated amorphous silica (AS), (4) nano-sized zinc oxide (NZO), or (5) fine-sized zinc oxide (FZO). Depending on particle type and solution state, these particles range in size from 90 to 500 nm in size. Following exposures, the lungs of exposed rats were lavaged and inflammation (neutrophil recruitment) and cytotoxicity end points (bronchoalveolar lavage [BAL] fluid lactate dehydrogenase [LDH] values) were measured at 24 h, 1 week, 1 and 3 months postexposure. For the in vitro component of the study, three different culture conditions were utilized. Cultures of (1) rat L2 lung epithelial cells, (2) primary alveolar macrophages (AMs) (collected via BAL from unexposed rats), as well as (3) AM—L2 lung epithelial cell cocultures were incubated with the particle types listed above, and the culture fluids were evaluated for cytotoxicity end points (LDH, 1-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-3,5-diphenylformazan [MTT]) as well as inflammatory cytokines (macrophage inflammatory 2 protein [MIP-2], tumor necrosis factor alpha [TNF-?], and interleukin-6 [IL-6]) at one (i.e., cytokines) or several (cytotoxicity) time periods. Results of in vivo pulmonary toxicity studies demonstrated that instilled CI particles produced little toxicity. CS particles produced sustained inflammation and cytotoxicity. AS particles produced reversible and transient inflammatory responses. NZO or FZO particles produced potent but reversible inflammation which was resolved by 1 month postinstillation exposure. Results of in vitro pulmonary cytotoxicity studies demonstrated a variety of responses to the different particle types, primarily at high doses. With respect to the LDH results, L2 cells were the most sensitive and exposures to nano- or fine-sized ZnO for 4 or 24 h were more cytotoxic than exposures to CS or AS particles. Macrophages essentially were resistant and epithelial macrophage cocultures generally reflected the epithelial results at 4 and 24 h incubation, but not at 48 h incubation. MTT results were also interesting but, except for nano- and fine-sized ZnO, did not correlate well with LDH results. Results of in vitro pulmonary inflammation studies demonstrated that L2 cells did not produce MIP-2 cytokines, but CS- or AS-exposed AMs and, to a lesser degree, cocultures secreted these chemotactic factors into the culture media. Measurements of TNF-? in the culture media by particle-exposed cells demonstrated little activity. In addition, IL-6 secretion was measured in CS, AS, and nano-sized ZnO-exposed cocultures. When considering the range of toxicity end points to five different particle types, the comparisons of in vivo and in vitro measurements demonstrated little correlation, particularly when considering many of the variables assessed in this study—such as cell types to be utilized, culture conditions and time course of exposure, as well as measured end points. It seems clear that in vitro cellular systems will need to be further developed, standardized, and validated (relative to in vivo effects) in order to provide useful screening data on the relative toxicity of inhaled particle types.


Sayes, C., Reed, KL., & Warheit, DB. (2007). Assessing toxicity of fine and nanoparticles: Comparing in vitro measurements to In vivo pulmonary toxicity profiles. Toxicological Sciences, 97(1), 163-180. https://doi.org/10.1093/toxsci/kfm018

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