Recent advances in nanotechnology have induced a widespread production and application of nanomaterials. As a consequence, an increasing number of workers are expected to undergo exposure to these xenobiotics, while the possible hazards to their health remain not being completely understood. In this context, biological monitoring may play a key role not only to identify potential hazards from and to evaluate occupational exposure to nanomaterials, but also to detect their early biological effects to better assess and manage risks of exposure in respect of the health of workers. Therefore, the aim of this review is to provide a critical evaluation of potential biomarkers of nanomaterial exposure and effect investigated in human and animal studies. Concerning exposure biomarkers, internal dose of metallic or metal oxide nanoparticle exposure may be assessed measuring the elemental metallic content in blood or urine or other biological materials, whereas specific molecules may be carefully evaluated in target tissues as possible biomarkers of biologically effective dose. Oxidative stress biomarkers, such as 8-hydroxy-deoxy-guanosine, genotoxicity biomarkers, and inflammatory response indicators may also be useful, although not specific, as biomarkers of nanomaterial early adverse health effects. Finally, potential biomarkers from "omic" technologies appear to be quite innovative and greatly relevant, although mechanistic, ethical, and practical issues should all be resolved before their routine application in occupational settings could be implemented. Although all these findings are interesting, they point out the need for further research to identify and possibly validate sensitive and specific biomarkers of exposure and effect, suitable for future use in occupational biomonitoring programs. A valuable contribution may derive from the studies investigating the biological behavior of nanomaterials and the factors influencing their toxicokinetics and reactivity. In this context, the application of the most recent advances in analytical chemistry and biochemistry to the biological monitoring of nanomaterial exposure may be also useful to detect and define patterns and mechanisms of early nanospecific biochemical alterations.
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