Nanopolystyrene translocation and fetal deposition after acute lung exposure during late-stage pregnancy

Sara B. Fournier, Jeanine N. D’Errico, Derek S. Adler, Stamatina Kollontzi, Michael J. Goedken, Laura Fabris, Edward J. Yurkow, Phoebe A. Stapleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background: Plastic is everywhere. It is used in food packaging, storage containers, electronics, furniture, clothing, and common single-use disposable items. Microplastic and nanoplastic particulates are formed from bulk fragmentation and disintegration of plastic pollution. Plastic particulates have recently been detected in indoor air and remote atmospheric fallout. Due to their small size, microplastic and nanoplastic particulate in the atmosphere can be inhaled and may pose a risk for human health, specifically in susceptible populations. When inhaled, nanosized particles have been shown to translocate across pulmonary cell barriers to secondary organs, including the placenta. However, the potential for maternal-to-fetal translocation of nanosized-plastic particles and the impact of nanoplastic deposition or accumulation on fetal health remain unknown. In this study we investigated whether nanopolystyrene particles can cross the placental barrier and deposit in fetal tissues after maternal pulmonary exposure. Results: Pregnant Sprague Dawley rats were exposed to 20 nm rhodamine-labeled nanopolystyrene beads (2.64 × 1014 particles) via intratracheal instillation on gestational day (GD) 19. Twenty-four hours later on GD 20, maternal and fetal tissues were evaluated using fluorescent optical imaging. Fetal tissues were fixed for particle visualization with hyperspectral microscopy. Using isolated placental perfusion, a known concentration of nanopolystyrene was injected into the uterine artery. Maternal and fetal effluents were collected for 180 min and assessed for polystyrene particle concentration. Twenty-four hours after maternal exposure, fetal and placental weights were significantly lower (7 and 8%, respectively) compared with controls. Nanopolystyrene particles were detected in the maternal lung, heart, and spleen. Polystyrene nanoparticles were also observed in the placenta, fetal liver, lungs, heart, kidney, and brain suggesting maternal lung-to-fetal tissue nanoparticle translocation in late stage pregnancy. Conclusion: These studies confirm that maternal pulmonary exposure to nanopolystyrene results in the translocation of plastic particles to placental and fetal tissues and renders the fetoplacental unit vulnerable to adverse effects. These data are vital to the understanding of plastic particulate toxicology and the developmental origins of health and disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number55
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Fetal
  • Maternal
  • Nanoplastics
  • Perfusion
  • Polystyrene
  • Pregnancy
  • Translocation


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