Comparative in vitro cytotoxicity study on uncoated magnetic nanoparticles: Effects on cell viability, cell morphology, and cellular uptake

L. Li, K. Y. Mak, J. Shi, H. K. Koon, C. H. Leung, C. M. Wong, Chi Wah Leung, C. S.K. Mak, N. M.M. Chan, W. Zhong, K. W. Lin, E. X. Wu, P. W.T. Pong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (MIONPs) must be biocompatible, and a thorough knowledge on their potential cytotoxicity is crucial for their biomedical applications. However, the detailed study about the effects of iron oxide nanoparticles on cell viability, cell morphology, and cellular uptake of different mammalian cells is still insufficient. In this paper, comparative cytotoxicity study of uncoated magnetite nanoparticles at different concentrations was performed on human cervical cancer cell line (HeLa) and immortalized normal human retinal pigment epithelial cell line (RPE). The size, structure, and magnetic behavior of the MIONPs were characterized using transmission electron microscopy (TEM), X-ray diffractometry (XRD), and vibrating sample magnetometry (VSM) respectively. After 24-hour incubation with the MIONPs, the cell viability was determined by live/dead assay, the cell morphology at high magnification was observed under scanning electron microscopy (SEM), and the cellular uptake of MIONPs was measured under TEM and verified by energydispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) analysis. Our results indicate that the uncoated MIONPs at a high concentration (0.40 mg/ml) were toxic to both HeLa and RPE cells. However, the cytotoxicity of uncoated MIONPs at low concentrations was cell-type specific, and RPE cells were more susceptible to these MIONPs than HeLa cells. The effects of the MIONPs on cell morphology and the nanoparticles uptake also showed different features between these two cell lines. Hence cell type should be taken into consideration in the in vitro cytotoxicity study of uncoated MIONPs. Additionally, it should be noticed that the cell morphological changes and the uptake of nanoparticles can take place even though no toxic effect of these MIONPs at low concentrations was reflected in the traditional cell viability assay.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9010-9017
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


  • Cell morphology
  • Cytotoxicity
  • HeLa cell
  • Magnetic nanoparticle
  • RPE cell

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • General Chemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • General Materials Science
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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