High-resolution analytical electron microscopy reveals cell culture media-induced changes to the chemistry of silver nanowires

Shu Chen, Ioannis G. Theodorou, Angela E. Goode, Andrew Gow, Stephan Schwander, Junfeng Zhang, Kian Fan Chung, Teresa D. Tetley, Milo S. Shaffer, Mary P. Ryan, Alexandra E. Porter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


There is a growing concern about the potential adverse effects on human health upon exposure to engineered silver nanomaterials (particles, wires, and plates). However, the majority of studies testing the toxicity of silver nanomaterials have examined nominally "as-synthesized" materials without considering the fate of the materials in biologically relevant fluids. Here, in-house silver nanowires (AgNWs) were prepared by a modified polyol process and were incubated in three cell culture media (DMEM, RPMI-1640, and DCCM-1) to examine the impact of AgNW-medium interactions on the physicochemical properties of the AgNWs. High-resolution analytical transmission electron microscopy revealed that Ag2S crystals form on the surface of AgNWs within 1 h of incubation in DCCM-1. In contrast, the incubation of AgNWs in RPMI-1640 or DMEM did not lead to sulfidation. When the DCCM-1 cell culture medium was separated into its small molecule solutes and salts and protein components, the AgNWs were found to sulfidize in the fraction containing small molecule solutes and salts but not in the fraction containing the protein component of the media. Further investigation showed the AgNWs did not readily sulfidize in the presence of isolated sulfur containing amino acids or proteins, such as cysteine or bovine serum albumin (BSA). The results demonstrate that the AgNWs can be transformed by the media before and during the incubation with cells, and therefore, the effects of cell culture media must be considered in the analysis of toxicity assays. Appropriate media and material controls must be in place to allow accurate predictions about the toxicity and, ultimately, the health risk of this commercially relevant class of nanomaterial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13813-13821
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 3 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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