Separation, Sizing, and Quantitation of Engineered Nanoparticles in an Organism Model Using Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry and Image Analysis

For environmental studies assessing uptake of orally ingested engineered nanoparticles (ENPs), a key step in ensuring accurate quantification of ingested ENPs is efficient separation of the organism from ENPs that are either nonspecifically adsorbed to the organism and/or suspended in the dispersion following exposure. Here, we measure the uptake of 30 and 60 nm gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) by the nematode, Caenorhabditis elegans, using a sucrose density gradient centrifugation protocol to remove noningested AuNPs. Both conventional inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and single particle (sp)­ICP-MS are utilized to measure the total mass and size distribution, respectively, of ingested AuNPs. Scanning electron microscopy/energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDS) imaging confirmed that traditional nematode washing procedures were ineffective at removing excess suspended and/or adsorbed AuNPs after exposure. Water rinsing procedures had AuNP removal efficiencies ranging from 57 to 97% and 22 to 83%, while the sucrose density gradient procedure had removal efficiencies of 100 and 93 to 98%, respectively, for the 30 and 60 nm AuNP exposure conditions. Quantification of total Au uptake was performed following acidic digestion of nonexposed and Au-exposed nematodes, whereas an alkaline digestion procedure was optimized for the liberation of ingested AuNPs for spICP-MS characterization. Size distributions and particle number concentrations were determined for AuNPs ingested by nematodes with corresponding confirmation of nematode uptake via high-pressure freezing/freeze substitution resin preparation and large-area SEM imaging. Methods for the separation and in vivo quantification of ENPs in multicellular organisms will facilitate robust studies of ENP uptake, biotransformation, and hazard assessment in the environment.