Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 398, Issue 2, pp 651–666 | Cite as

The comet assay in nanotoxicology research

  • Hanna L. Karlsson


Nanoscale particles can have impressive and useful characteristics, but the same properties may be problematic for human health. From this perspective it is critical to assess the ability of nanoparticles to cause DNA damage. This review focuses on the use of the comet assay in nanotoxicology research. In the alkaline version of the assay, DNA strand breaks and alkali-labile sites are detected and oxidatively damaged DNA can be analyzed using the enzyme formamidopyrimidine glycosylase. The article reviews studies that have used the comet assay to investigate the toxicity of manufactured nanoparticles. It is shown that at least 46 cellular in vitro studies and several in vivo studies have used the comet assay and that the majority of the nanoparticles tested cause DNA strand breaks or oxidative DNA lesions. This is not surprising considering the sensitivity of the method and the reactivity of many nanomaterials. Interactions between the particles and the assay cannot be totally excluded and need further consideration. It is concluded that studies including several particle types, to enable the assessment of their relative potency, are valuable as are studies focusing both on comet assay end points and mutagenicity. Finally, the article discusses the potential future use of the comet assay in human biomonitoring studies, which could provide valuable information for hazard identification of nanoparticles.


Comet assay Nanomaterials Particles Genotoxicity Toxicity Test methods 



The author thanks colleges in the research group of Analytical Toxicology as well as Mikael Karlsson, Södertörn University, and Jonas Nygren, European Chemicals Agency, for critical reading and commenting on the review. The author is a member of Stockholm Particle Group (SPG) as well as a partner of ECNIS, a network of excellence operating within the European Union Sixth Framework Programme, priority 5: "Food Quality and Safety" (contract no. 513943). This work was financially supported by the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) and the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Unit for Analytical Toxicology, Department of Biosciences and NutritionKarolinska InstitutetHuddingeSweden

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