A novel property of gold nanoparticles: Free radical generation under microwave irradiation




Gold nanoparticles (GNPs) are known to be effective mediators in microwave hyperthermia. Interaction with an electromagnetic field, large surface to volume ratio, and size quantization of nanoparticles (NPs) can lead to increased cell killing beyond pure heating effects. The purpose of this study is to explore the possibility of free radical generation by GNPs in aqueous media when they are exposed to a microwave field.


A number of samples with 500 mM 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline N-oxide (DMPO) in 20 ppm GNP colloidal suspensions were scanned with an electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR)/electron spin resonance spectrometer to generate and detect free radicals. A fixed (9.68 GHz) frequency microwave from the spectrometer has served for both generation and detection of radicals. EPR spectra obtained as first derivatives of intensity with the spectrometer were double integrated to get the free radical signal intensities. Power dependence of radical intensity was studied by applying various levels of microwave power (12.5, 49.7, and 125 mW) while keeping all other scan parameters the same. Free radical signal intensities from initial and final scans, acquired at the same power levels, were compared.


Hydroxyl radical (OH) signal was found to be generated due to the exposure of GNP–DMPO colloidal samples to a microwave field. Intensity of OH signal thus generated at 12.5 mW microwave power for 2.8 min was close to the intensity of OH signal obtained from a water–DMPO sample exposed to 1.5 Gy ionizing radiation dose. For repeated scans, higher OH intensities were observed in the final scan for higher power levels applied between the initial and the final scans. Final intensities were higher also for a shorter time interval between the initial and the final scans.


Our results observed for the first time demonstrate that GNPs generate OH radicals in aqueous media when they are exposed to a microwave field. If OH radicals can be generated close to deoxyribonucleic acid of cells by proper localization of NPs, NP-aided microwave hyperthermia can yield cell killing via both elevated temperature and free radical generation.