Silica nanoparticles induce neurodegeneration-like changes in behavior, neuropathology, and affect synapse through MAPK activation

Ran You, Yuen Shan Ho, Clara Hiu Ling Hung, Yan Liu, Chun Xia Huang, Hei Nga Chan, See Lok Ho, Sheung Yeung Lui, Hung Wing Li, Raymond Chuen Chung Chang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Silica nanoparticles (SiO2-NPs) are naturally enriched and broadly utilized in the manufacturing industry. While previous studies have demonstrated toxicity in neuronal cell lines after SiO2-NPs exposure, the role of SiO2-NPs in neurodegeneration is largely unknown. Here, we evaluated the effects of SiO2-NPs-exposure on behavior, neuropathology, and synapse in young adult mice and primary cortical neuron cultures. Results: Male C57BL/6 N mice (3 months old) were exposed to either vehicle (sterile PBS) or fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-tagged SiO2-NPs (NP) using intranasal instillation. Behavioral tests were performed after 1 and 2 months of exposure. We observed decreased social activity at both time points as well as anxiety and cognitive impairment after 2 months in the NP-exposed mice. NP deposition was primarily detected in the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. Neurodegeneration-like pathological changes, including reduced Nissl staining, increased tau phosphorylation, and neuroinflammation, were also present in the brains of NP-exposed mice. Furthermore, we observed NP-induced impairment in exocytosis along with decreased synapsin I and increased synaptophysin expression in the synaptosome fractions isolated from the frontal cortex as well as primary neuronal cultures. Extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK) and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) were also activated in the frontal cortex of NP-exposed mice. Moreover, inhibition of ERK activation prevented NP-mediated changes in exocytosis in cultured neurons, highlighting a key role in the changes induced by NP exposure. Conclusions: Intranasal instillation of SiO2-NPs results in mood dysfunction and cognitive impairment in young adult mice and causes neurodegeneration-like pathology and synaptic changes via ERK activation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number28
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2018


  • Behavior
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Silica nanoparticles
  • Synapse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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