In vivo distribution of nanosilver in the rat: The role of ions and de novo-formed secondary particles.
Silver nanoparticles are advertised as antimicrobial agents in a wide range of products. The majority of available studies suggest that silver nanoparticle toxicity is mainly caused by silver ions released from the particles. However, it remains challenging to distinguish between the effect of silver nanoparticles and silver ions. Here we used a combination of a short-term in vivo study in rats and an in silico-based toxicokinetic model to determine tissue distribution of administered ionic and nanoparticulate silver, and to estimate mixture ratios of the different silver species, namely primary nanoparticles, ions and secondary particles. Our data indicate that silver nanoparticles and silver ions are not or only marginally bioavailable after oral ingestion of a single, non-toxic dose. Experimental data on organ distribution after intravenous injection were accurately reflected by the predictions of the in silico model. Toxicokinetic modeling suggests systemic distribution of a major proportion of the injected ionic silver as de novo formed secondary nanoparticles, and the presence of such particles was proven by electron microscopy. The observation that silver ions form secondary particles, underlines the difficulties in distinguishing between particle- and ion-dependent effects of silver nanoparticles.