TOF-SIMS analysis of cell membrane changes in functional impaired human macrophages upon nanosilver treatment


J. Tentschert, Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Department of Product Safety, Max-Dohrn-Strasse 8-10, 10589 Berlin, Germany. E-mail:

H. F. Arlinghaus, University of Münster, Institute of Physics, Wilhelm Klemm Strasse 10, 48149 Münster, Germany. E-mail:


Silver nanoparticles (SNP) are among the most commercialized nanoparticles. Here, we show that peptide-coated SNP cause functional impairment of human macrophages. A dose-dependent inhibition of phagocytosis is observed after nanoparticle treatment, and pretreatment of cells with N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) can counteract the phagocytosis disturbances caused by SNP.

Using the surface-sensitive mode of time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry, in combination with multivariate statistical methods, we studied the composition of cell membranes in human macrophages upon exposure to SNP with and without NAC preconditioning. This method revealed characteristic changes in the lipid pattern of the cellular membrane outer leaflet in those cells challenged by SNP. Statistical analyses resulted in 19 characteristic ions, which can be used to distinguish between NAC pretreated and untreated macrophages. The present study discusses the assignments of surface cell membrane phospholipids for the identified ions and the resulting changes in the phospholipid pattern of treated cells. We conclude that the adverse effects in human macrophages caused by SNP can be partially reversed through NAC administration. Some alterations, however, remained. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.