A critical issue with nanomaterials is the clear understanding of their potential toxicity. We evaluated the toxic effect of 24 nanoparticles of similar equivalent spherical diameter and various elemental compositions on 2 human pulmonary cell lines: A549 and THP-1. A secondary aim was to elaborate a generic experimental set-up that would allow the rapid screening of cytotoxic effect of nanoparticles. We therefore compared 2 cytotoxicity assays (MTT and Neutral Red) and analyzed 2 time points (3 and 24 hours) for each cell type and nanoparticle. When possible, TC50 (Toxic Concentration 50 i.e. nanoparticle concentration inducing 50% cell mortality) was calculated.
The use of MTT assay on THP-1 cells exposed for 24 hours appears to be the most sensitive experimental design to assess the cytotoxic effect of one nanoparticle. With this experimental set-up, Copper- and Zinc-based nanoparticles appear to be the most toxic. Titania, Alumina, Ceria and Zirconia-based nanoparticles show moderate toxicity, and no toxicity was observed for Tungsten Carbide. No correlation between cytotoxicity and equivalent spherical diameter or specific surface area was found.