Advances in chemistry and engineering have created a new technology, nanotechnology, involving the tiniest known manufactured products. These products have a rapidly increasing market share and appear poised to revolutionize engineering, cosmetics, and medicine. Unfortunately, nanotoxicology, the study of nanoparticulate health effects, lags behind advances in nanotechnology. Over the past decade, existing literature on ultrafine particles and respirable durable fibers has been supplemented by studies of first-generation nanotechnology products. These studies suggest that nanosizing increases the toxicity of many particulates. First, as size decreases, surface area increases, thereby speeding up dissolution of soluble particulates and exposing more of the reactive surface of durable but reactive particulates. Second, nanosizing facilitates movement of particulates across cellular and intracellular barriers. Third, nanosizing allows particulates to interact with, and sometimes even hybridize with, subcellular structures, including in some cases microtubules and DNA. Finally, nanosizing of some particulates, increases pathologic and physiologic responses, including inflammation, fibrosis, allergic responses, genotoxicity, and carcinogenicity, and may alter cardiovascular and lymphatic function. Knowing how the size and physiochemical properties of nanoparticulates affect bioactivity is important in assuring that the exciting new products of nanotechnology are used safely. This review provides an introduction to the pathology and toxicology of nanoparticulates.
Ann F. Hubbs, DVM, PhD, DACVP, Health Effects Laboratory Division, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1095 Willowdale Rd, Morgantown,WV 26505, USA