Safer-by-design flame-sprayed silicon dioxide nanoparticles: The role of silanol content on ROS generation, surface activity and cytotoxicity

Laura Rubio, Georgios Pyrgiotakis, Juan Beltran-Huarac, Yipei Zhang, Joshi Gaurav, Glen Deloid, Anastasia Spyrogianni, Kristopher A. Sarosiek, Dhimiter Bello, Philip Demokritou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Background: Amorphous silica nanoparticles (SiO2 NPs) have been regarded as relatively benign nanomaterials, however, this widely held opinion has been questioned in recent years by several reports on in vitro and in vivo toxicity. Surface chemistry, more specifically the surface silanol content, has been identified as an important toxicity modulator for SiO2 NPs. Here, quantitative relationships between the silanol content on SiO2 NPs, free radical generation and toxicity have been identified, with the purpose of synthesizing safer-by-design fumed silica nanoparticles. Results: Consistent and statistically significant trends were seen between the total silanol content, cell membrane damage, and cell viability, but not with intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS), in the macrophages RAW264.7. SiO2 NPs with lower total silanol content exhibited larger adverse cellular effects. The SAEC epithelial cell line did not show any sign of toxicity by any of the nanoparticles. Free radical generation and surface reactivity of these nanoparticles were also influenced by the temperature of combustion and total silanol content. Conclusion: Surface silanol content plays an important role in cellular toxicity and surface reactivity, although it might not be the sole factor influencing fumed silica NP toxicity. It was demonstrated that synthesis conditions for SiO2 NPs influence the type and quantity of free radicals, oxidative stress, nanoparticle interaction with the biological milieu they come in contact with, and determine the specific mechanisms of toxicity. We demonstrate here that it is possible to produce much less toxic fumed silicas by modulating the synthesis conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number40
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 29 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Amorphous silica
  • Flame spray pyrolysis
  • Silanol groups
  • Surface reactivity
  • Toxicity


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