Quantitative assessment of the comparative nanoparticle-uptake efficiency of a range of cell lines

Tiago dos Santos, Juan Varela, Iseult Lynch, Anna Salvati, Kenneth A Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

172 Citations (Scopus)


The mechanism(s) of nanoparticle-cell interactions are still not understood. At present there is little knowledge of the relevant length- and timescales for nanoparticle intracellular entry and localization within cells, or the cell-specificity of nanoparticle uptake and localisation. Here, the effect of particle size on the in-vitro intracellular uptake of model fluorescent carboxyl-modified polystyrene nanoparticles is investigated in various cell lines. A range of micro- and nanoparticles of defined sizes (40 nm to 2 μm) are incubated with a series of cell types, including HeLa and A549 epithelial cells, 1321N1 astrocytes, HCMEC D3 endothelial cells, and murine RAW 264.7 macrophages. Techniques such as confocal microscopy and flow cytometry are used to study particle uptake and subcellular localisation, making significant efforts to ensure reproducibility in a semiquantitative approach. The results indicate that internalization of (nano)particles is highly size-dependent for all cell lines studied, and the kinetics of uptake for the same type of nanoparticle varies in the different cell types. Interestingly, even cells not specialized for phagocytosis are able to internalize the larger nanoparticles. Intracellular uptake of all sizes of particles is observed to be highest in RAW 264.7 cells (a specialized phagocytic cell line) and the lowest in the HeLa cells. These results suggest that (nano)particle uptake might not follow commonly defined size limits for uptake processes, and highlight the variability of uptake kinetics for the same material in different cell types. These conclusions have important implications for the assessment of the safety of nanomaterials and for the potential biomedical applications of nanoparticles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3341-9
Number of pages9
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2011


  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Endocytosis
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Fluorescence
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Mice
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Nanoparticles/chemistry
  • Particle Size
  • Xanthenes/metabolism


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