Several studies suggested that gold nanoparticles (NPs) could be genotoxic in vitro and in vivo. However, gold NPs have currently produced present a wide range of sizes and functionalization, which could affect their interactions with the environment or with biological structures and, thus, modify their toxic effects. In this study, we investigated the role of surface charge in determining the genotoxic potential of gold NPs, as measured by the induction of DNA damage (comet assay) and chromosomal damage (micronucleus assay) in human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B cells. The cellular uptake of gold NPs was assessed by hyperspectral imaging. Two core sizes (~5 nm and ~20 nm) and three functionalizations representing negative (carboxylate), positive (ammonium), and neutral (poly(ethylene glycol); (PEG)ylated) surface charges were examined. Cationic ammonium gold NPs were clearly more cytotoxic than their anionic and neutral counterparts, but genotoxicity was not simply dependent on functionalization or size, since DNA damage was induced by 20-nm ammonium and PEGylated gold NPs, while micronucleus induction was increased by 5-nm ammonium and 20-nm PEGylated gold NPs. The 5-nm carboxylated gold NPs were not genotoxic, and evidence on the genotoxicity of the 20-nm carboxylated gold NPs was restricted to a positive result at the lowest dose in the micronucleus assay. When interpreting the results, it has to be taken into account that cytotoxicity limited the doses available for the ammonium-functionalized gold NPs and that gold NPs have earlier been described to interfere with the comet assay procedure, possibly resulting in a false positive result. In conclusion, our findings show that the cellular uptake and cytotoxicity of gold NPs are clearly enhanced by positive surface charge, but neither functionalization nor size can single-handedly account for the genotoxic effects of the gold NPs.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited