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Implications of the stability behavior of zinc oxide nanoparticles for toxicological studies

: Meißner, Tobias; Oelschlägel, Kathrin; Potthoff, Annegret


International nano letters 4 (2014), Nr.3, Art. 116, 13 S.
ISSN: 2228-5326 (Online)
ISSN: 2008-9295 (Print)
Fraunhofer IKTS ()
zinc oxide; nanoparticles; dispersion; dissolution; particle agglomeration

The increasing use of zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles in sunscreens and other cosmetic products demands a risk assessment that has to be done in toxicological studies. Such investigations require profound knowledge of the behavior of ZnO in cell culture media. The current study was performed to get well-dispersed suspensions of a hydrophilic (ZnO-hydro) and a lipophilic coated (ZnO-lipo) ZnO nanomaterial for use in in vitro tests. Therefore, systematic tests were carried out with common dispersants (phosphate, lecithin, proteins) to elucidate chemical and physical changes of ZnO nanoparticles in water and physiological solutions (PBS, DMEM). Non-physiological stock suspensions were prepared using ultrasonication. Time-dependent changes of pH, conductivity, zeta potential, particle size and dissolution were recorded. Secondly, the stock suspensions were added to physiological media with or without albumin (BSA) or serum (FBS), to examine characteristics such as agglomeration and dissolution. Stable stock suspensions were obtained using phosphate as natural and physiological electrostatic stabilizing agent. Lecithin proved to be an effective wetting agent for ZnO-lipo. Although the particle size remained constant, the suspension changed over time. The pH increased as a result of ZnO dissolution and formation of zinc phosphate complexes. The behavior of ZnO in physiological media was found to depend strongly on the additives used. Applying only phosphate as additive, ZnO-hydro agglomerated within minutes. In the presence of lecithin or BSA/serum, agglomeration was inhibited. ZnO dissolution was higher under physiological conditions than in the stock suspension. Serum especially promoted this process. Using body-related dispersants (phosphate, lecithin) non-agglomerating stock suspensions of hydrophilic and lipophilic ZnO were prepared as a prerequisite to perform meaningful toxicological investigation. Both nanomaterials showed a non-negligible dissolution behavior that strongly depended on the surrounding conditions. Agglomeration of ZnO particles in physiological media is a complex function of particle coating, used dispersants and serum proteins if supplemented. The present study gives a clear guideline how to prepare and handle suspensions with ZnO for in vitro testing and allows the correlation between the chemical-physical particles behavior with findings from toxicological tests.