Critical influence of chloride ions on silver ion-mediated acute toxicity of silver nanoparticles to zebrafish embryos
The toxicity of silver nanoparticles (AgNP) to aquatic organisms, including zebrafish (Danio rerio), has been demonstrated, but differing opinions exist on the contribution of the physical properties of the particles themselves and the free dissolved silver ions (Ag+) to the observed effects. High concentrations of chloride ions (Cl-) in the routinely used exposure media can cause precipitation of Ag+ as AgCl, as well as complexation of silver in diverse soluble chlorocomplexes, thus masking the contribution of dissolved silver to AgNP toxicity. In the present study, we formulated a zebrafish exposure medium with a low chloride content and exposed zebrafish embryos to AgNO3 or carbonate-coated AgNP. The severity of toxicity caused by both silver forms depended on the time of exposure start, with younger embryos being most sensitive. Toxicity caused by both AgNO3 and AgNP was of the same order of magnitude when compared based on the total dissolved silver concentration and could be prevented by addition of the Ag+ chelator cysteine. Further, we have analyzed the data from several previous studies to evaluate the influence of interactions between Ag+ and Cl- on silver toxicity to zebrafish embryos. Our analysis demonstrates that the acute toxicity of AgNP to zebrafish embryos is largely mediated by Ag+. The influence of particle size and coating can at least partially be explained by the differences in Ag+ dissolution. High Cl- levels in the exposure medium indeed have a pivotal influence on the resulting toxicity of AgNP, appearing to significantly attenuate toxicity in several studies. This consideration should influence the choice of exposure medium to be used when evaluating and comparing AgNP toxicity.