Long-Term Effects of Polystyrene Nanoplastics in Human Intestinal Caco-2 Cells

Josefa Domenech, Mariana de Britto, Antonia Velázquez, Susana Pastor, Alba Hernández, Ricard Marcos, Constanza Cortés

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


The increasing presence of micro-and nanoplastics (MNPLs) in the environment, and their consequent accumulation in trophic niches, could pose a potential health threat to humans, especially due to their chronic ingestion. In vitro studies using human cells are considered pertinent approaches to determine potential health risks to humans. Nevertheless, most of such studies have been conducted using short exposure times and high concentrations. Since human exposure to MNPLs is supposed to be chronic, there is a lack of information regarding the potential in vitro MNPLs effects under chronic exposure conditions. To this aim, we assessed the accumulation and potential outcomes of polystyrene nanoparticles (PSNPs), as a model of MNPLs, in undifferentiated Caco-2 cells (as models of cell target in ingestion exposures) under a relevant long-term exposure scenario, consisting of eight weeks of exposure to sub-toxic PSNPs concentrations. In such exposure conditions, culture-media was changed every 2–3 days to maintain constant exposure. The different analyzed endpoints were cytotoxicity, dysregulation of stress-related genes, genotoxicity, oxidative DNA damage, and intracellular ROS levels. These are endpoints that showed to be sensitive enough in different studies. The obtained results attest that PSNPs accumulate in the cells through time, inducing changes at the ultrastructural and molecular levels. Nevertheless, minor changes in the different evaluated genotoxicity-related biomarkers were observed. This would indicate that no DNA damage or oxidative stress is observed in the human intestinal Caco-2 cells after long-term exposure to PSNPs. This is the first study dealing with the long-term effects of PSNPs on human cultured cells.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1442
Pages (from-to)11: 1444
Number of pages16
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • Caco-2 cells
  • Genotoxicity
  • Intestinal barrier
  • Nanoplastics
  • Polystyrene nanoparticles


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