Cellular interactions with polystyrene nanoplastics-The role of particle size and protein corona.

American Vacuum Society
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Biointerphases, 2021, 16, (4), pp. 041001
Issue Date:
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Plastic waste is ubiquitously spread across the world and its smaller analogs-microplastics and nanoplastics-raise particular health concerns. While biological impacts of microplastics and nanoplastics have been actively studied, the chemical and biological bases for the adverse effects are sought after. This work explores contributory factors by combining results from in vitro and model mammalian membrane experimentation to assess the outcome of cell/nanoplastic interactions in molecular detail, inspecting the individual contribution of nanoplastics and different types of protein coronae. The in vitro study showed mild cytotoxicity and cellular uptake of polystyrene (PS) nanoplastics, with no clear trend based on nanoplastic size (20 and 200 nm) or surface charge. In contrast, a nanoplastic size-dependency on bilayer disruption was observed in the model system. This suggests that membrane disruption resulting from direct interaction with PS nanoplastics has little correlation with cytotoxicity. Furthermore, the level of bilayer disruption was found to be limited to the hydrophilic headgroup, indicating that transmembrane diffusion was an unlikely pathway for cellular uptake-endocytosis is the viable mechanism. In rare cases, small PS nanoplastics (20 nm) were found in the vicinity of chromosomes without a nuclear membrane surrounding them; however, this was not observed for larger PS nanoplastics (200 nm). We hypothesize that the nanoplastics can interact with chromosomes prior to nuclear membrane formation. Overall, precoating PS particles with protein coronae reduced the cytotoxicity, irrespective of the corona type. When comparing the two types, the extent of reduction was more apparent with soft than hard corona.
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