Open Access Research

An integrated approach for the in vitro dosimetry of engineered nanomaterials

Joel M Cohen1, Justin G Teeguarden2 and Philip Demokritou1*

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Nanotechnology and Nanotoxicology, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

2 Systems Toxicology and Exposure Science, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA, USA

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Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2014, 11:20  doi:10.1186/1743-8977-11-20

Published: 1 May 2014



There is a great need for screening tools capable of rapidly assessing nanomaterial toxicity. One impediment to the development of reliable in vitro screening methods is the need for accurate measures of cellular dose. We present here a methodology that enables accurate determination of delivered to cell dose metrics. This methodology includes (1) standardization of engineered nanomaterial (ENM) suspension preparation; (2) measurement of ENM characteristics controlling delivery to cells in culture; and (3) calculation of delivered dose as a function of exposure time using the ISDD model. The approach is validated against experimentally measured doses, and simplified analytical expressions for the delivered dose (Relevant In Vitro Dose (RID)f function) are derived for 20 ENMs. These functions can be used by nanotoxicologists to accurately calculate the total mass (RIDM), surface area (RIDSA), or particle number (RIDN) delivered to cells as a function of exposure time.


The proposed methodology was used to derive the effective density, agglomerate diameter and RID functions for 17 industrially-relevant metal and metal oxide ENMs, two carbonaceous nanoparticles, and non-agglomerating gold nanospheres, for two well plate configurations (96 and 384 well plates). For agglomerating ENMs, the measured effective density was on average 60% below the material density. We report great variability in delivered dose metrics, with some materials depositing within 24 hours while others require over 100 hours for delivery to cells. A neutron-activated tracer particle system was employed to validate the proposed in vitro dosimetry methodology for a number of ENMs (measured delivered to cell dose within 9% of estimated).


Our findings confirm and extend experimental and computational evidence that agglomerate characteristics affect the dose delivered to cells. Therefore measurement of these characteristics is critical for effective use of in vitro systems for nanotoxicology. The mixed experimental/computational approach to cellular dosimetry proposed and validated here can be used by nanotoxicologists to accurately calculate the delivered to cell dose metrics for various ENMs and in vitro conditions as a function of exposure time. The RID functions and characterization data for widely used ENMs presented here can together be used by experimentalists to design and interpret toxicity studies.