This review of metal-based nanoparticles focuses on factors influencing their distribution into the nervous system, evidence they enter brain parenchyma, and nervous system responses. Gold is emphasized as a model metal-based nanoparticle and for risk assessment in the companion review. The anatomy and physiology of the nervous system, basics of colloid chemistry, and environmental factors that influence what cells see are reviewed to provide background on the biological, physical–chemical, and internal milieu factors that influence nervous system nanoparticle uptake. The results of literature searches reveal little nanoparticle research included the nervous system, which about equally involved in vitro and in vivo methods, and very few human studies. The routes of uptake into the nervous system and mechanisms of nanoparticle uptake by cells are presented with examples. Brain nanoparticle uptake inversely correlates with size. The influence of shape has not been reported. Surface charge has not been clearly shown to affect flux across the blood-brain barrier. There is very little evidence for metal-based nanoparticle distribution into brain parenchyma. Metal-based nanoparticle disruption of the blood-brain barrier and adverse brain changes have been shown, and are more pronounced for spheres than rods. Study concentrations need to be put in exposure contexts. Work with dorsal root ganglion cells and brain cells in vitro show the potential for metal-based nanoparticles to produce toxicity. Interpretation of these results must consider the ability of nanoparticles to distribute across the barriers protecting the nervous system. Effects of the persistence of poorly soluble metal-based nanoparticles are of particular concern. WIREs Nanomed Nanobiotechnol 2013, 5:346–373. doi: 10.1002/wnan.1202
Conflict of interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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