Open Access Research

Contrasting macrophage activation by fine and ultrafine titanium dioxide particles is associated with different uptake mechanisms

Agnes M Scherbart1, Julia Langer2, Alexey Bushmelev3, Damiёn van Berlo1, Petra Haberzettl1, Frederik-Jan van Schooten4, Annette M Schmidt3, Christine R Rose2, Roel PF Schins1 and Catrin Albrecht1*

Author Affiliations

1 IUF - Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine, Düsseldorf, Germany

2 Institute for Neurobiology, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Germany

3 Institute of Physical Chemistry, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany

4 Department of Health Risk Analysis and Toxicology, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands

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Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2011, 8:31  doi:10.1186/1743-8977-8-31

Published: 13 October 2011


Inhalation of (nano)particles may lead to pulmonary inflammation. However, the precise mechanisms of particle uptake and generation of inflammatory mediators by alveolar macrophages (AM) are still poorly understood. The aim of this study was to investigate the interactions between particles and AM and their associated pro-inflammatory effects in relation to particle size and physico-chemical properties.

NR8383 rat lung AM were treated with ultrafine (uf), fine (f) TiO2 or fine crystalline silica (DQ12 quartz). Physico-chemical particle properties were investigated by transmission electron microscopy, elemental analysis and thermogravimetry. Aggregation and agglomeration tendency of the particles were determined in assay-specific suspensions by means of dynamic light scattering.

All three particle types were rapidly taken up by AM. DQ12 and ufTiO2 , but not fTiO2 , caused increased extracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS), heme oxygenase 1 (HO-1) mRNA expression and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α release. Inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) mRNA expression was increased most strongly by ufTiO2 , while DQ12 exclusively triggered interleukin (IL) 1β release. However, oscillations of intracellular calcium concentration and increased intracellular ROS were observed with all three samples. Uptake inhibition experiments with cytochalasin D, chlorpromazine and a Fcγ receptor II (FcγRII) antibody revealed that the endocytosis of fTiO2 by the macrophages involves actin-dependent phagocytosis and macropinocytosis as well as clathrin-coated pit formation, whereas the uptake of ufTiO2 was dominated by FcγIIR. The uptake of DQ12 was found to be significantly reduced by all three inhibitors. Our findings suggest that the contrasting AM responses to fTiO2 , ufTiO2 and DQ12 relate to differences in the involvement of specific uptake mechanisms.

NR8383 cells; titanium dioxide; particle internalization; size distribution; agglomeration