Label-free detection of uptake, accumulation, and translocation of diesel exhaust particles in ex vivo perfused human placenta

Eva Bongaerts, Leonie Aengenheister, Battuja B. Dugershaw, Pius Manser, Maarten B.J. Roeffaers, Marcel Ameloot, Tim S. Nawrot, Hannelore Bové*, Tina Buerki-Thurnherr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Pregnant women and developing fetuses comprise a particularly vulnerable population as multiple studies have shown associations between prenatal air pollution exposure and adverse pregnancy outcomes. However, the mechanisms underlying the observed developmental toxicity are mostly unknown, in particular, if pollution particles can cross the human placenta to reach the fetal circulation. Results: Here, we investigated the accumulation and translocation of diesel exhaust particles (DEPs), as a model particle for combustion-derived pollution, in human perfused placentae using label-free detection by femtosecond pulsed laser illumination. The results do not reveal a significant particle transfer across term placentae within 6 h of perfusion. However, DEPs accumulate in placental tissue, especially in the syncytiotrophoblast layer that mediates a wealth of essential functions to support and maintain a successful pregnancy. Furthermore, DEPs are found in placental macrophages and fetal endothelial cells, showing that some particles can overcome the syncytiotrophoblasts to reach the fetal capillaries. Few particles are also observed inside fetal microvessels. Conclusions: Overall, we show that DEPs accumulate in key cell types of the placental tissue and can cross the human placenta, although in limited amounts. These findings are crucial for risk assessment and protection of pregnant women and highlight the urgent need for further research on the direct and indirect placenta-mediated developmental toxicity of ambient particulates. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Article number144
JournalJournal of Nanobiotechnology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Diesel exhaust particles
  • Environmental pollution
  • Ex vivo placental perfusion
  • In utero exposure
  • Nanosafety


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