Mechanisms of toxic action of Ag, ZnO and CuO nanoparticles to selected ecotoxicological test organisms and mammalian cells <i>in vitro</i>: A comparative review

<p>Silver, ZnO and CuO nanoparticles (NPs) are increasingly used as biocides. There is however increasing evidence of their threat to “non-target” organisms. In such a context, the understanding of the toxicity mechanisms is crucial for both the design of more efficient nano-antimicrobials, i.e. for “toxic by design” and at the same time for the design of nanomaterials that are biologically and/or environmentally benign throughout their life-cycle (safe by design). This review provides a comprehensive and critical literature overview on Ag, ZnO and CuO NPs’ toxicity mechanisms on the basis of various environmentally relevant test species and mammalian cells <i>in vitro</i>. In addition, factors modifying the toxic effect of nanoparticles, e.g. impact of the test media, are discussed. Literature analysis revealed three major phenomena driving the toxicity of these nanoparticles: (i) dissolution of nanoparticles, (ii) organism-dependent cellular uptake of NPs and (iii) induction of oxidative stress and consequent cellular damages. The emerging information on quantitative structure–activity relationship modeling of nanomaterials’ toxic effects and the challenges of extrapolation of laboratory results to the environment are also addressed.</p>