BACKGROUND: Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) and silver (Ag)-based materials are increasingly being incorporated into consumer products, and although humans have been exposed to colloidal Ag in many forms for decades, this rise in the use of Ag materials has spurred interest into their toxicology. Recent reports have shown that exposure to AgNPs or Ag ions leads to oxidative stress, endoplasmic reticulum stress, and reduced cell proliferation. Previous studies have shown that Ag accumulates in tissues as silver sulfides (Ag2S) and silver selenide (Ag2Se).
OBJECTIVES: In this study we investigated whether exposure of cells in culture to AgNPs or Ag ions at subtoxic doses would alter the effective metabolism of selenium, that is, the incorporation of selenium into selenoproteins.
METHODS: For these studies we used a keratinocyte cell model (HaCat) and a lung cell model (A549). We also tested (in vitro, both cellular and chemical) whether Ag ions could inhibit the activity of a key selenoenzyme, thioredoxin reductase (TrxR).
RESULTS: We found that exposure to AgNPs or far lower levels of Ag ions led to a dose-dependent inhibition of selenium metabolism in both cell models. The synthesis of protein was not altered under these conditions. Exposure to nanomolar levels of Ag ions effectively blocked selenium metabolism, suggesting that Ag ion leaching was likely the mechanism underlying observed changes during AgNP exposure. Exposure likewise inhibited TrxR activity in cultured cells, and Ag ions were potent inhibitors of purified rat TrxR isoform 1 (cytosolic) (TrxR1) enzyme.
CONCLUSIONS: Exposure to AgNPs leads to the inhibition of selenoprotein synthesis and inhibition of TrxR1. Further, we propose these two sites of action comprise the likely mechanism underlying increases in oxidative stress, increases endoplasmic reticulum stress, and reduced cell proliferation during exposure to Ag.