‘Non-toxic’ nanoparticles used in personal care and cosmetics disrupt immune function

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

‘Non-toxic’ nanoparticles used in personal care and cosmetics disrupt immune function
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory observed that some nanoparticles diminish the function of macrophage immune cells while others cause cell death.

The findings, published in ACS Nano​, have important ramifications in the beauty industry, especially in light of the current trend to formulate for and market to consumers who are passionate about wellness.  

“Engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) are increasingly utilized for commercial and medical applications; thus, understanding their potential adverse effects is an important societal issue,” ​assert the researchers in the abstract for the article: Quantitative Profiling of Protein S-Glutathionylation Reveals Redox-Dependent Regulation of Macrophage Function during Nanoparticle-Induced Oxidative Stress.

Cellular susceptibility

That nanoparticles in consumer products can affect immune function has been documented previously.

This most recent study on the effects of silicon oxide, iron oxide, and cobalt oxide was a step toward understanding precisely which nanoparticles impact immune function and to what degree. The upshot being that affected macrophage cells are less able to recognize and overwhelm extraneous bodies or simply perish altogether.

The pattern of protein changes identified in this study provides new clues to the types of nanoparticles that cause these effects and the proteins involved,” ​explains an article on the PNNL site’s news page.

Tiny science

The scale at which important biological processes transpire is often minute, whether or not those processes occur naturally or in response to manufactured substances.

Wei-Jun Qian, an analytical chemist as well as a corresponding author on the study, developed the research technique used by team in this instance.

Qian established the method, “[known as a quantitative redox proteomics approach,] as part of his work studying redox reactions which play an important role regulating photosynthesis in plants,” ​according to the PNNL item.

And it’s worth noting that “Qian has used the system to discover more than 2,100 molecular locations where redox reactions are likely to occur in cyanobacteria, which are important for producing biofuels.”

Big findings

Starting with the knowledge that nanoparticles can cause oxidative stress and subsequent macrophage cell death, the PNNL researchers tested the effects of silicon oxide, iron oxide, and cobalt oxide.

Mouse cells exposed to those ingredients maintained “ ‘footprints’ of activity” ​or rather, “an increase in S-glutathionylation,” ​explains the laboratory’s write up.

Through careful observation, the team then identified the molecular pathways that are most vulnerable to oxidative stress, distinct from those that result in cell death.

Subscribing readers of ACS Nano​ can learn more and access the team’s published article here​.

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