Silver nanoparticles affect the neural development of zebrafish embryos

Qi XIN, Jeanette M. ROTCHELL, Jinping CHENG, Jun YI, Qiang ZHANG

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Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) have been widely used in commercial products. This study aims to understand the impact of AgNPs on the early developmental stages in zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos. Embryos were exposed to two sizes of AgNPs at three dose levels, as well to free Ag⁺ ions, for a range of 4-96h post-fertilization (hpf). The acute exposure study showed that exposure to AgNPs affected the neurological development, and the exposed embryos exhibited anomalies such as small head with hypoplastic hindbrain, small eye and cardiac defects. At the molecular level, AgNPs altered the expression profiles of neural development-related genes (gfap, huC and ngn1), metal-sensitive metallothioneins and ABCC genes in exposed embryos. The expression of AhR2 and Cyp1A, which are usually considered to mediate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon toxicity, were also significantly changed. A size-dependent uptake of AgNPs was observed, whereby 4nm AgNPs were more efficiently taken up compared with the 10nm-sized particles. Importantly, the head area accumulated AgNPs more efficiently than the trunk area of exposed zebrafish embryos. No free Ag⁺ ions, which can be potentially released from the AgNP solutions, were detected. This study suggests that AgNPs could affect the neural development of zebrafish embryos, and the toxicity of AgNPs may be partially attributed to the comparatively higher uptake in the head area. These results indicate the potential neurotoxicity of AgNPs and could be extended to other aquatic organisms. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1481-1492
JournalJournal of Applied Toxicology
Issue number12
Early online date15 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


Xin, Q., Rotchell, J. M., Cheng, J., Yi, J., & Zhang, Q. (2015). Silver nanoparticles affect the neural development of zebrafish embryos. Journal of Applied Toxicology, 35(12), 1481-1492. doi: 10.1002/jat.3164


  • Silver nanoparticles
  • Zebrafish embryos
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Cardiotoxicity
  • Nanotoxicity
  • Gene expression
  • Developmental toxicity


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