The plausibility of human exposure to microplastics has increased within the last years. Microplastics have been found in different food types including seafood, salt, sugar and beverages. So far, human health effects of microplastics after ingestion are unknown. Herein, we designed a novel, three-dimensional in vitro intestinal model consisting of the human intestinal epithelial cell lines Caco-2 and HT29-MTX-E12 as well as human blood monocyte-derived macrophages and dendritic cells that is suitable to assess the possible effects of ingested microplastics. Relevant microplastic particles (in the order of 50–500 µm), including polymers representing tire wear and polyolefins, which represent major sources of microplastic in the EU, were compared to other polymer classes and an inorganic microparticle, healing earth, which is intended for human consumption. Microplastic particles were exposed at concentrations of 823.5–1380.0 µg/cm2 to the model using a dry powder insufflator system to aerosolize the particles directly on the intestinal model’s surface. Cytotoxicity was investigated after 6, 24 and 48 h of exposure via measuring the release of lactate dehydrogenase. Inflammatory end points including the cytokines IL-8, TNFα and IL-1β as well as changes of the barrier integrity after exposure were additionally monitored. We demonstrated that all of the microplastics and the healing earth particles did not cause any significant cytotoxicity or release of (pro-)inflammatory cytokines and did not change the barrier integrity of the co-culture at any of the time points investigated.
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This work was supported by the Adolphe Merkle Foundation and BASF SE. We thank Dr. Miguel Spuch for the illustrational work of Figs. 2a and 6a and Prof. B. Schwaller from the Institute of Anatomy of the University Fribourg for the support with the histology cuts. R.L acknowledges funding from SPARK by Swiss National Science Foundation (190287). D.S. acknowledges funding from SPARK by Swiss National Science Foundation (190440).
Conflict of interest
RL and WW are employees of BASF SE, a company producing plastics.
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Lehner, R., Wohlleben, W., Septiadi, D. et al. A novel 3D intestine barrier model to study the immune response upon exposure to microplastics. Arch Toxicol 94, 2463–2479 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00204-020-02750-1
- Tire dust
- Human hazard
- 3D intestine co-culture model
- (Pro-)inflammatory cytokines