Nano Express

Nanoscale Research Letters

, Volume 4, Issue 12, pp 1409-1420

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The Influences of Cell Type and ZnO Nanoparticle Size on Immune Cell Cytotoxicity and Cytokine Induction

  • Cory HanleyAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Boise State University
  • , Aaron ThurberAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Boise State University
  • , Charles HannaAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Boise State University
  • , Alex PunnooseAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Boise State University
  • , Jianhui ZhangAffiliated withDepartment of Physics, Boise State University
  • , Denise G. WingettAffiliated withDepartment of Biological Sciences, Boise State UniversityDepartment of Medicine, Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, University of WashingtonMSTMRI Research Institute of St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center Email author 


Nanotechnology represents a new and enabling platform that promises to provide a range of innovative technologies for biological applications. ZnO nanoparticles of controlled size were synthesized, and their cytotoxicity toward different human immune cells evaluated. A differential cytotoxic response between human immune cell subsets was observed, with lymphocytes being the most resistant and monocytes being the most susceptible to ZnO nanoparticle-induced toxicity. Significant differences were also observed between previously activated memory lymphocytes and naive lymphocytes, indicating a relationship between cell-cycle potential and nanoparticle susceptibility. Mechanisms of toxicity involve the generation of reactive oxygen species, with monocytes displaying the highest levels, and the degree of cytotoxicity dependent on the extent of nanoparticle interactions with cellular membranes. An inverse relationship between nanoparticle size and cytotoxicity, as well as nanoparticle size and reactive oxygen species production was observed. In addition, ZnO nanoparticles induce the production of the proinflammatory cytokines, IFN-γ, TNF-α, and IL-12, at concentrations below those causing appreciable cell death. Collectively, these results underscore the need for careful evaluation of ZnO nanoparticle effects across a spectrum of relevant cell types when considering their use for potential new nanotechnology-based biological applications.


Nanoparticle ZnO T lymphocyte Monocytes Cytokine Immunity Nanotoxicity