Neurotoxic potential of polystyrene nanoplastics in primary cells originating from mouse brain

Byung Kwon Jung, Seung Woo Han, So Hyun Park, Jin Sil Bae, Jinhee Choi, Kwon Yul Ryu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Polystyrene (PS) and chemically modified compounds in the PS family have long been used in commercial and industrial fields. However, it is poorly understood whether nanoscale-PS microplastic or PS nanoplastic exposure leads to perturbations in fundamental cellular functions, such as proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. Herein, we cultured three types of primary cells, including mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEFs), mixed neuronal cells isolated from embryonic cortex, and cortical astrocytes, and investigated the effects of their exposure to PS nanoplastics with a 100 nm diameter. Although PS nanoplastic exposure did not affect the viability of MEFs or astrocytes, it significantly reduced the viability of mixed neuronal cells. Consistent with the observed effect on cellular viability, levels of the apoptosis marker, cleaved caspase-3, were elevated exclusively in mixed neuronal cells. To investigate whether cells uptake PS nanoplastics into the cytoplasm, we exposed MEFs and neurons to fluorescent PS latex beads and monitored fluorescence over time. We found that PS nanoplastics were deposited and accumulated in the cytoplasm in a concentration-dependent manner. Although astrocytes were not apoptotic upon exposure to PS nanoplastics, they underwent reactive astrocytosis, with increased levels of lipocalin-2 and proinflammatory cytokines. Therefore, our findings suggested that the vulnerability of cells to the deposition and accumulation of PS nanoplastics in the cytoplasm was dependent on cell type. Furthermore, based on our data from primary cells originating from mouse brains, we suggest that reactive astrocytosis may contribute to the neuronal apoptosis seen in defective neurons with PS nanoplastics accumulated in the cell body.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-196
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • Astrocytes
  • Cellular viability
  • MEFs
  • Mixed neuronal cells
  • Nanoplastic
  • Polystyrene


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