Exploring the potential role of tungsten carbide cobalt (WC-Co) nanoparticle internalization in observed toxicity toward lung epithelial cellsin vitro

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Abstract

Tungsten carbide cobalt (WC-Co) has been recognized as a workplace inhalation hazard in the manufacturing, mining and drilling industries by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Exposure to WC-Co is known to cause “hard metal lung disease” but the relationship between exposure, toxicity and development of disease remain poorly understood. To better understand this relationship, the present study examined the role of WC-Co particle size and internalization on toxicity using lung epithelial cells. We demonstrated that nano- and micro-WC-Co particles exerted toxicity in a dose- and time-dependent manner and that nano-WC-Co particles caused significantly greater toxicity at lower concentrations and shorter exposure times compared to micro-WC-Co particles. WC-Co particles in the nano-size range (not micron-sized) were internalized by lung epithelial cells, which suggested that internalization may play a key role in the enhanced toxicity of nano-WC-Co particles over micro-WC-Co particles. Further exploration of the internalization process indicated that there may be multiple mechanisms involved in WC-Co internalization such as actin and microtubule based cytoskeletal rearrangements. These findings support our hypothesis that WC-Co particle internalization contributes to cellular toxicity and suggest that therapeutic treatments inhibiting particle internalization may serve as prophylactic approaches for those at risk of WC-Co particle exposure.

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