Transcriptomic profiling reveals differential cellular response to copper oxide nanoparticles and polystyrene nanoplastics in perfused human placenta

S Chortarea, G Gupta, L A Saarimäki, W Netkueakul, P Manser, L Aengenheister, A Wichser, V Fortino, P Wick, D Greco, T Buerki-Thurnherr*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The growing nanoparticulate pollution (e.g. engineered nanoparticles (NPs) or nanoplastics) has been shown to pose potential threats to human health. In particular, sensitive populations such as pregnant women and their unborn children need to be protected from harmful environmental exposures. However, developmental toxicity from prenatal exposure to pollution particles is not yet well studied despite evidence of particle accumulation in human placenta. Our study aimed to investigate how copper oxide NPs (CuO NPs; 10-20 nm) and polystyrene nanoplastics (PS NPs; 70 nm) impact on gene expression in ex vivo perfused human placental tissue. Whole genome microarray analysis revealed changes in global gene expression profile after 6 h of perfusion with sub-cytotoxic concentrations of CuO (10 µg/mL) and PS NPs (25 µg/mL). Pathway and gene ontology enrichment analysis of the differentially expressed genes suggested that CuO and PS NPs trigger distinct cellular response in placental tissue. While CuO NPs induced pathways related to angiogenesis, protein misfolding and heat shock responses, PS NPs affected the expression of genes related to inflammation and iron homeostasis. The observed effects on protein misfolding, cytokine signaling, and hormones were corroborated by western blot (accumulation of polyubiquitinated proteins) or qPCR analysis. Overall, the results of the present study revealed extensive and material-specific interference of CuO and PS NPs with placental gene expression from a single short-term exposure which deserves increasing attention. In addition, the placenta, which is often neglected in developmental toxicity studies, should be a key focus in the future safety assessment of NPs in pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108015
JournalEnvironment international
Early online date7 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • Pregnancy
  • Humans
  • Female
  • Copper/toxicity
  • Polystyrenes/toxicity
  • Microplastics
  • Transcriptome
  • Placenta
  • Nanoparticles/toxicity
  • Oxides


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