Open Access Research

Use of silver nanowires to determine thresholds for fibre length-dependent pulmonary inflammation and inhibition of macrophage migration in vitro

Anja Schinwald1, Tanya Chernova2 and Ken Donaldson1*

Author Affiliations

1 MRC/University of Edinburgh, Centre for Inflammation Research, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh, EH16 4TJ, UK

2 MRC Toxicology Unit, Hodgkin Building, Lancaster Road, Leicester, LE1 9HN, UK

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Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2012, 9:47  doi:10.1186/1743-8977-9-47

Published: 2 December 2012



The objective of this study was to examine the threshold fibre length for the onset of pulmonary inflammation after aspiration exposure in mice to four different lengths of silver nanowires (AgNW). We further examined the effect of fibre length on macrophage locomotion in an in vitro wound healing assay. We hypothesised that exposure to longer fibres causes both increased inflammation and restricted mobility leading to impaired clearance of long fibres from the lower respiratory tract to the mucociliary escalator in vivo.


Nine week old female C57BL/6 strain mice were exposed to AgNW and controls via pharyngeal aspiration. The dose used in this study was equalised to fibre number and based on 50 μg/ mouse for AgNW14. To examine macrophage migration in vitro a wound healing assay was used. An artificial wound was created in a confluent layer of bone marrow derived macrophages by scraping with a pipette tip and the number of cells migrating into the wound was monitored microscopically. The dose was equalised for fibre number and based on 2.5 μg/cm2 for AgNW14.


Aspiration of AgNW resulted in a length dependent inflammatory response in the lungs with threshold at a fibre length of 14 μm. Shorter fibres including 3, 5 and 10 μm elicited no significant inflammation. Macrophage locomotion was also restricted in a length dependent manner whereby AgNW in the length of ≥5 μm resulted in impaired motility in the wound closure assay.


We demonstrated a 14 μm cut-off length for fibre-induced pulmonary inflammation after aspiration exposure and an in vitro threshold for inhibition of macrophage locomotion of 5 μm. We previously reported a threshold length of 5 μm for fibre-induced pleural inflammation. This difference in pulmonary and pleural fibre- induced inflammation may be explained by differences in clearance mechanism of deposited fibres from the airspaces compared to the pleural space. Inhibition of macrophage migration at long fibre lengths could account for their well-documented long term retention in the lungs compared to short fibres. Knowledge of the threshold length for acute pulmonary inflammation contributes to hazard identification of nanofibres.

Asbestos fibre; Silver nanofibres; Aspiration; Clearance; Migration