The cytotoxicity of polycationic iron oxide nanoparticles: Common endpoint assays and alternative approaches for improved understanding of cellular response mechanism
Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSaT), Wilson House, 1 Wurzburg Loan, University of Dundee, Dundee DD2 1FD, UK
Journal of Nanobiotechnology 2012, 10:15 doi:10.1186/1477-3155-10-15Published: 17 April 2012
Iron oxide magnetic nanoparticles (MNP's) have an increasing number of biomedical applications. As such in vitro characterisation is essential to ensure the bio-safety of these particles. Little is known on the cellular interaction or effect on membrane integrity upon exposure to these MNPs. Here we synthesised Fe3O4 and surface coated with poly(ethylenimine) (PEI) and poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) to achieve particles of varying surface positive charges and used them as model MNP's to evaluate the relative utility and limitations of cellular assays commonly applied for nanotoxicity assessment. An alternative approach, atomic force microscopy (AFM), was explored for the analysis of membrane structure and cell morphology upon interacting with the MNPs. The particles were tested in vitro on human SH-SY5Y, MCF-7 and U937 cell lines for reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and lipid peroxidation (LPO), LDH leakage and their overall cytotoxic effect. These results were compared with AFM topography imaging carried out on fixed cell lines.
Successful particle synthesis and coating were characterised using FTIR, PCS, TEM and ICP. The particle size from TEM was 30 nm (−16.9 mV) which increased to 40 nm (+55.6 mV) upon coating with PEI and subsequently 50 nm (+31.2 mV) with PEG coating. Both particles showed excellent stability not only at neutral pH but also in acidic environment of pH 4.6 in the presence of sodium citrate. The higher surface charge MNP-PEI resulted in increased cytotoxic effect and ROS production on all cell lines compared with the MNP-PEI-PEG. In general the effect on the cell membrane integrity was observed only in SH-SY5Y and MCF-7 cells by MNP-PEI determined by LDH leakage and LPO production. AFM topography images showed consistently that both the highly charged MNP-PEI and the less charged MNP-PEI-PEG caused cell morphology changes possibly due to membrane disruption and cytoskeleton remodelling.
Our findings indicate that common in vitro cell endpoint assays do not give detailed and complete information on cellular state and it is essential to explore novel approaches and carry out more in-depth studies to elucidate cellular response mechanism to magnetic nanoparticles.