Toxicology of (nano)particles


S. van den Brule, C. Pavan, L. Perez, D. Lison

Innovative industrial applications can represent a risk for human health. Our group is actively involved in experimental research to identify the health hazards of inorganic particles, and to elucidate their mechanisms of toxicity. We are currently working on silica particles, nanomaterials and poorly soluble low-toxicity particles (PSLT).

Inhaled silica particles

Through a long-standing collaboration with the group of profs B. Fubini and F. Turci (university of Torino), we are investigating the physico-chemical bases of the respiratory toxicity of silica (quartz). We found that the biological reactivity of silica particles is determined by the presence of a specific family of silanols, coined “nearly free silanols" (NFS) (Pavan et al., PNAS 2020). These observations contribute to revisit the classical paradigm that the toxicity of silica is related to its crystalline structure. We are currently further documenting the role of NFS in lung cancer and inflammatory reactions. This research is sponsored by EUROSIL.

Nanomaterials and the lung

We are actively involved in the H2020 PATROLS project to develop advanced in vitro models to predict the toxicity of nanomaterials. Based on our expertise with carbon nanotubes ( Vietti et al, 2013; Vietti et al, 2016a; Vietti et al, 2016b), our specific focus in this programme is to evaluate the effects of inhaled NM on lung fibroblasts to predict their pro-fibrotic activity.

Nanomaterials and the gut microbiota

Nanomaterials can reach the digestive tract upon ingestion (dietary NM) or after lung clearance and swallowing (inhaled particles). Ingested NM can disrupt the composition and/or functions of the gut microbiota, which might contribute to adverse health effects (cardiovascular, metabolic, obesity). We have recently shown that dietary silver nanoparticles (van den Brule et al, PFT 2016) and diesel exhaust particles (van den Brule et al, PFT 2021) can disrupt the composition and function of the gut microbiota in mice. In the frame of a FNRS grant (NANOGUMI), we are currently using mouse models to investigate the possible impact of dietary nanoparticles (silver, titanium dioxide and silica) on the gut microbiota, cardiovascular and metabolic systems.

Poorly soluble low-toxicity particles (PhD of Laeticia Perez)

Long-term inhalation of high doses of poorly soluble low-toxicity particles (e.g. titanium dioxide or carbon black) can saturate the clearance mechanisms of the lungs, resulting in the accumulation of these particles in the alveola. This lung overload causes an inflammatory reaction and lung cancers in experimental rats. The relevance of this carcinogenic response to PSLT for human exposure is unclear. Laeticia is currently investigating the response of the rat alveolar macrophages to PSLT. This programme is sponsored by industrial partners.