Toxicity of amorphous silica nanoparticles on eukaryotic cell model is determined by particle agglomeration and serum protein adsorption effects

  • Daniela DrescherEmail author
  • Guillermo Orts-GilEmail author
  • Gregor Laube
  • Kishore Natte
  • Rüdiger W. Veh
  • Werner Österle
  • Janina Kneipp
Original Paper


Cell cultures form the basis of most biological assays conducted to assess the cytotoxicity of nanomaterials. Since the molecular environment of nanoparticles exerts influence on their physicochemical properties, it can have an impact on nanotoxicity. Here, toxicity of silica nanoparticles upon delivery by fluid-phase uptake is studied in a 3T3 fibroblast cell line. Based on XTT viability assay, cytotoxicity is shown to be a function of (1) particle concentration and (2) of fetal calf serum (FCS) content in the cell culture medium. Application of dynamic light scattering shows that both parameters affect particle agglomeration. The DLS experiments verify the stability of the nanoparticles in culture medium without FCS over a wide range of particle concentrations. The related toxicity can be mainly accounted for by single silica nanoparticles and small agglomerates. In contrast, agglomeration of silica nanoparticles in all FCS-containing media is observed, resulting in a decrease of the associated toxicity. This result has implications for the evaluation of the cytotoxic potential of silica nanoparticles and possibly also other nanomaterials in standard cell culture.


Agglomeration Cytotoxicity Fibroblast cells Serum proteins Silica nanoparticles 



We thank Michael Weller and Rudolf Schneider of BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing for use of the cell culture facility. This study has been supported by BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing within the framework of “BAM Innovationsoffensive” (project NANOTOX 1).

Supplementary material

216_2011_4893_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (222 kb)
Protein adsorption effects (PDF 222 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniela Drescher
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Guillermo Orts-Gil
    • 3
    Email author
  • Gregor Laube
    • 4
  • Kishore Natte
    • 3
  • Rüdiger W. Veh
    • 4
  • Werner Österle
    • 3
  • Janina Kneipp
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and TestingBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Department of ChemistryHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.BAM Federal Institute for Materials Research and TestingBerlinGermany
  4. 4.Institute of Integrative NeuroanatomyCharité - Universitätsmedizin BerlinBerlinGermany

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