The use of a complex tetra-culture alveolar model to study the biological effects induced by gold nanoparticles with different physicochemical properties

December 30, 2023

Melissa Saibene a b, Tommaso Serchi a, Patrizia Bonfanti b, Anita Colombo b, Inge Nelissen c, Rashi Halder e, Jean-Nicolas Audinot f, Beatriz Pelaz g h, Mahmoud G. Soliman d i j, Wolfgang J. Parak d k, Paride Mantecca b, Arno C. Gutleb a, Sebastien Cambier a

a EH Group, SUSTAIN Unit, ERIN Department, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, Luxembourg
b Polaris Research Centre, DISAT, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy
c Health Unit, Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO nv), Mol, Belgium
d Center for Hybrid Nanostructures, University of Hamburg, Germany
e Sequencing platform, LCSB, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
f AINA Group, SIPT Unit, MRT Department, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, Luxembourg
g Centro Singular de Investigación en Química Biolóxica e Materiais Moleculares (CiQUS), Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain
h Departamento de Química Inorgánica, Grupo de Física de Coloides y Polímeros, Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, Spain
i Chemistry Department, RCSI, Ireland
j Physics Department, Faculty of Science, Al-Azhar University, Egypt
k The Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging, Germany


  • The use of an in vitro tetra-culture model allows to characterize the biological effects of three Au NPs at molecular level.
  • Coupling the in vitro tetra-culture model at ALI with the VitroCell system ensures a simplified in vitro alveolar septum.
  • The shape of ENM influences the molecular response of the in vitro tetra-culture model.

A substantial increase in engineered nanoparticles in consumer products has been observed, heightening human and environmental exposure. Inhalation represents the primary route of human exposure, necessitating a focus on lung toxicity studies. However, to avoid ethical concerns the use of in vitro models is an efficient alternative to in vivo models. This study utilized an in vitro human alveolar barrier model at air-liquid-interface with four cell lines, for evaluating the biological effects of different gold nanoparticles. Exposure to PEGylated gold nanospheres, nanorods, and nanostars did not significantly impact viability after 24 h, yet all AuNPs induced cytotoxicity in the form of membrane integrity impairment. Gold quantification revealed cellular uptake and transport. Transcriptomic analysis identified gene expression changes, particularly related to the enhancement of immune cells. Despite limited impact, distinct effects were observed, emphasizing the influence of nanoparticles physicochemical parameters while demonstrating the model’s efficacy in investigating particle biological effects.

Read article

News overview