The environmental impact of nanoparticles is evident; however, their toxicity due to their nanosize is rarely discussed. Gold nanoparticles (GNPs) may serve as a promising model to address the size-dependent biological response to nanoparticles because they show good biocompatibility and their size can be controlled with great precision during their chemical synthesis. Naked GNPs ranging from 3 to 100 nm were injected intraperitoneally into BALB/C mice at a dose of 8 mg/kg/week. GNPs of 3, 5, 50, and 100 nm did not show harmful effects; however, GNPs ranging from 8 to 37 nm induced severe sickness in mice. Mice injected with GNPs in this range showed fatigue, loss of appetite, change of fur color, and weight loss. Starting from day 14, mice in this group exhibited a camel-like back and crooked spine. The majority of mice in these groups died within 21 days. Injection of 5 and 3 nm GNPs, however, did not induce sickness or lethality in mice. Pathological examination of the major organs of the mice in the diseased groups indicated an increase of Kupffer cells in the liver, loss of structural integrity in the lungs, and diffusion of white pulp in the spleen. The pathological abnormality was associated with the presence of gold particles at the diseased sites, which were verified by ex vivo Coherent anti-Stoke Raman scattering microscopy. Modifying the surface of the GNPs by incorporating immunogenic peptides ameliorated their toxicity. This reduction in the toxicity is associated with an increase in the ability to induce antibody response. The toxicity of GNPs may be a fundamental determinant of the environmental toxicity of nanoparticles.
- Gold nanoparticles