Silver nanowires (Ag NWs) are increasingly being used to produce touchscreens for smart phones and computers. When applied in a thin film over a plastic substrate, Ag NWs create a transparent, highly-conductive network of fibers enabling the touch interface between consumers and their electronics. Large-scale application methods utilize techniques whereby Ag NW suspensions are deposited onto substrates via droplets. Aerosolized droplets increase risk of occupational Ag NW exposure. Currently, there are few published studies on Ag NW exposure-related health effects. Concerns have risen about the potential for greater toxicity from exposure to high-aspect ratio nanomaterials compared to their non-fibrous counterparts. This study examines whether Ag NWs of varying lengths affect biological responses and silver distribution within the lungs at different time-points.
Two different sizes of Ag NWs (2 μm [S-Ag NWs] and 20 μm [L-Ag NWs]) were tested. Male, Sprague-Dawley rats were intratracheally instilled with Ag NWs (0, 0.1, 0.5, or 1.0 mg/kg). Broncho-alveolar lavage fluid (BALF) and lung tissues were obtained at 1, 7, and 21 days post exposure for analysis of BAL total cells, cell differentials, and total protein as well as tissue pathology and silver distribution.
Results and conclusions
The two highest doses produced significant increases in BAL endpoints. At Day 1, Ag NWs increased total cells, inflammatory polymorphonuclear cells (PMNs), and total protein. PMNs persisted for both Ag NW types at Day 7, though not significantly so, and by Day 21, PMNs appeared in line with sham control values. Striking histopathological features associated with Ag NWs included 1) a strong influx of eosinophils at Days 1 and 7; and 2) formation of Langhans and foreign body giant cells at Days 7 and 21. Epithelial sloughing in the terminal bronchioles (TB) and cellular exudate in alveolar regions were also common. By Day 21, Ag NWs were primarily enclosed in granulomas or surrounded by numerous macrophages in the TB-alveolar duct junction. These findings suggest short and long Ag NWs produce pulmonary toxicity; thus, further research into exposure-related health effects and possible exposure scenarios are necessary to ensure human safety as Ag NW demand increases.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12989-014-0052-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.