Airborne ultrafine particles (UFP) mainly derive from combustion sources (e.g., diesel exhaust particles—DEP), abrasion sources (non-exhaust particles) or from the unintentional release of engineered nanoparticles (e.g., metal oxide nanoparticles—NPs), determining human exposure to UFP mixtures. The aim of the present study was to analyse the combined in vitro effects of DEP and metal oxide NPs (ZnO, CuO) on human lung A549 cells. The mixtures and the relative single NPs (DEP, ZnO, CuO) were characterized by transmission electron microscopy (TEM), dynamic light scattering (DLS) and inductively coupled plasma-optic emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES). Cells were exposed for different times (3–72 h) to mixtures of standard DEP at a subcytotoxic concentration and ZnO and CuO at increasing concentrations. At the end of the exposure, the cytotoxicity was assessed by 3-(4,5-Dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-Diphenyltetrazolium Bromide (MTT) and clonogenic tests, the pro-inflammatory potential was evaluated by interleukin-8 (IL-8) release and the cell morphology was investigated by fluorescence and transmission electron microscopy. The obtained results suggest that the presence of DEP may introduce new physico-chemical interactions able to increase the cytotoxicity of ZnO and to reduce that of CuO NPs.
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