Inflammatory and cytotoxic responses of an alveolar-capillary coculture model to silica nanoparticles: Comparison with conventional monocultures

Jennifer Kasper, Maria I. Hermanns, Christoph Bantz, Michael Maskos, Roland Stauber, Christine Pohl, Ronald E. Unger, James C. Kirkpatrick

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121 Scopus citations


Background: To date silica nanoparticles (SNPs) play an important role in modern technology and nanomedicine. SNPs are present in various materials (tyres, electrical and thermal insulation material, photovoltaic facilities). They are also used in products that are directly exposed to humans such as cosmetics or toothpaste. For that reason it is of great concern to evaluate the possible hazards of these engineered particles for human health. Attention should primarily be focussed on SNP effects on biological barriers. Accidentally released SNP could, for example, encounter the alveolar-capillary barrier by inhalation. In this study we examined the inflammatory and cytotoxic responses of monodisperse amorphous silica nanoparticles (aSNPs) of 30 nm in size on an in vitro coculture model mimicking the alveolar-capillary barrier and compared these to conventional monocultures.Methods: Thus, the epithelial cell line, H441, and the endothelial cell line, ISO-HAS-1, were used in monoculture and in coculture on opposite sides of a filter membrane. Cytotoxicity was evaluated by the MTS assay, detection of membrane integrity (LDH release), and TER (Transepithelial Electrical Resistance) measurement. Additionally, parameters of inflammation (sICAM-1, IL-6 and IL-8 release) and apoptosis markers were investigated.Results: Regarding toxic effects (viability, membrane integrity, TER) the coculture model was less sensitive to apical aSNP exposure than the conventional monocultures of the appropriate cells. On the other hand, the in vitro coculture model responded with the release of inflammatory markers in a much more sensitive fashion than the conventional monoculture. At concentrations that were 10-100fold less than the toxic concentrations the apically exposed coculture showed a release of IL-6 and IL-8 to the basolateral side. This may mimic the early inflammatory events that take place in the pulmonary alveoli after aSNP inhalation. Furthermore, a number of apoptosis markers belonging to the intrinsic pathway were upregulated in the coculture following aSNP treatment. Analysis of the individual markers indicated that the cells suffered from DNA damage, hypoxia and ER-stress.Conclusion: We present evidence that our in vitro coculture model of the alveolar-capillary barrier is clearly advantageous compared to conventional monocultures in evaluating the extent of damage caused by hazardous material encountering the principle biological barrier in the lower respiratory tract.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
StatePublished - 27 Jan 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
A portion of the work described herein was carried out by Jennifer Kasper in partial fulfilment of the requirements for a biological doctoral degree at the Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany. The authors wish to thank Mrs Elke Stahr, Mrs Anne Sartoris and Mrs Michaela Moisch for their excellent assistance with the cell culture and immunocytochemical studies. Thanks are also due to Mirko Papritz for assisting with the protein array quantification. This study was supported by the DFG priority program SPP 1313 within the Cluster BIONEERS and also by the European Union, FP6 Project NanoBioPharmaceutics.


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