Recent insights on indirect mechanisms in developmental toxicity of nanomaterials

Battuja Batbajar Dugershaw, Leonie Aengenheister, Signe Schmidt Kjølner Hansen, Karin Sørig Hougaard, Tina Buerki-Thurnherr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Epidemiological and animal studies provide compelling indications that environmental and engineered nanomaterials (NMs) pose a risk for pregnancy, fetal development and offspring health later in life. Understanding the origin and mechanisms underlying NM-induced developmental toxicity will be a cornerstone in the protection of sensitive populations and the design of safe and sustainable nanotechnology applications. Main body: Direct toxicity originating from NMs crossing the placental barrier is frequently assumed to be the key pathway in developmental toxicity. However, placental transfer of particles is often highly limited, and evidence is growing that NMs can also indirectly interfere with fetal development. Here, we outline current knowledge on potential indirect mechanisms in developmental toxicity of NMs. Short conclusion: Until now, research on developmental toxicity has mainly focused on the biodistribution and placental translocation of NMs to the fetus to delineate underlying processes. Systematic research addressing NM impact on maternal and placental tissues as potential contributors to mechanistic pathways in developmental toxicity is only slowly gathering momentum. So far, maternal and placental oxidative stress and inflammation, activation of placental toll-like receptors (TLRs), impairment of placental growth and secretion of placental hormones, and vascular factors have been suggested to mediate indirect developmental toxicity of NMs. Therefore, NM effects on maternal and placental tissue function ought to be comprehensively evaluated in addition to placental transfer in the design of future studies of developmental toxicity and risk assessment of NM exposure during pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number31
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Developmental toxicity
  • Indirect toxicity pathways
  • Nanomaterials
  • Placental barrier
  • Pregnancy


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