Although the health effects of zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnONPs) on the respiratory system have been reported, the fate, potential toxicity, and mechanisms in biological cells of these particles, as related to particle size and surface characteristics, have not been well elucidated. To determine the physicochemical properties of ZnONPs that govern cytotoxicity, we investigated the effects of size, electronic properties, zinc concentration, and pH on cell viability using human alveolar-basal epithelial A549 cells as a model. We observed that a 2-hour or longer exposure to ZnONPs induced changes in cell viability. The alteration in cell viability was associated with the zeta potentials and pH values of the ZnONPs. Proteomic profiling of A549 exposed to ZnONPs for 2 and 4 hours was used to determine the biological mechanisms of ZnONP toxicity. p53-pathway activation was the core mechanism regulating cell viability in response to particle size. Activation of the Wnt and TGFβ signaling pathways was also important in the cellular response to ZnONPs of different sizes. The cadherin and Wnt signaling pathways were important cellular mechanisms triggered by surface differences. These results suggested that the size and surface characteristics of ZnONPs might play an important role in their observed cytotoxicity. This approach facilitates the design of more comprehensive systems for the evaluation of nanoparticles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3631-3643
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Nanomedicine
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2 2014


  • Aluminium-doped zinc oxide
  • Nanoparticle
  • Toxicology
  • WNT pathway
  • Zeta potential
  • pH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Organic Chemistry


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