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Zinc oxide nanoparticles selectively induce apoptosis in human cancer cells through reactive oxygen species

Authors Akhtar MJ, Ahamed M, Kumar, Khan M, Ahmad J, Alrokayan

Received 13 December 2011

Accepted for publication 5 January 2012

Published 21 February 2012 Volume 2012:7 Pages 845—857


Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 5

Mohd Javed Akhtar1,2, Maqusood Ahamed3, Sudhir Kumar1, MA Majeed Khan3, Javed Ahmad4, Salman A Alrokayan3

1Department of Zoology, University of Lucknow, Lucknow, India; 2Fibre Toxicology Division, CSIR-Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, India; 3King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; 4Department of Zoology, College of Science, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Background: Zinc oxide nanoparticles (ZnO NPs) have received much attention for their implications in cancer therapy. It has been reported that ZnO NPs induce selective killing of cancer cells. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms behind the anticancer response of ZnO NPs remain unclear.
Methods and results: We investigated the cytotoxicity of ZnO NPs against three types of cancer cells (human hepatocellular carcinoma HepG2, human lung adenocarcinoma A549, and human bronchial epithelial BEAS-2B) and two primary rat cells (astrocytes and hepatocytes). Results showed that ZnO NPs exert distinct effects on mammalian cell viability via killing of all three types of cancer cells while posing no impact on normal rat astrocytes and hepatocytes. The toxicity mechanisms of ZnO NPs were further investigated using human liver cancer HepG2 cells. Both the mRNA and protein levels of tumor suppressor gene p53 and apoptotic gene bax were upregulated while the antiapoptotic gene bcl-2 was downregulated in ZnO NP-treated HepG2 cells. ZnO NPs were also found to induce activity of caspase-3 enzyme, DNA fragmentation, reactive oxygen species generation, and oxidative stress in HepG2 cells.
Conclusion: Overall, our data demonstrated that ZnO NPs selectively induce apoptosis in cancer cells, which is likely to be mediated by reactive oxygen species via p53 pathway, through which most of the anticancer drugs trigger apoptosis. This study provides preliminary guidance for the development of liver cancer therapy using ZnO NPs.

Keywords: ZnO nanoparticles, cancer therapy, p53, apoptosis, ROS

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