Heterogenous Internalization of Nanoparticles at Ultra-Trace Concentration in Environmental Individual Unicellular Organisms Unveiled by Single-Cell Mass Cytometry
Qi Wu, Jianbo Shi, Xiaomeng Ji, Tian Xia, Li Zeng, Gengtan Li, Yuanyuan Wang, Jie Gao, Linlin Yao, Junjie Ma, Xiaolei Liu, Nian Liu, Ligang Hu, Bin He, Yong Liang, Guangbo Qu, and Guibin Jiang
The application and consumption of nanoparticles (NPs) inevitably result in the contamination of environmental water. The internalized NPs in unicellular organisms could travel to human bodies along food chains and raise health concerns. Current research failed to determine the characteristics of cellular uptake of NPs by unicellular organisms at extremely low concentration in the real environment. We here developed a label-free high-throughput mass cytometry method to investigate gold NP (AuNP) uptake in a unicellular organism (Tetrahymena thermophila) at the single-cell level. The limit of detection for Au is as low as to 6.67 × 10–18 g/cell, which equals ∼5.3 5 nm AuNPs. We demonstrated that active engulfment pathways were responsible for the cellular accumulation of AuNPs and T. thermophila could also eliminate the cellular AuNPs rapidly. The interaction between AuNPs and T. thermophila is highly dependent on the sizes of nanoparticles; i.e., the population of T. thermophila containing AuNPs decreased with the increment of the diameters of AuNPs when exposed to the same mass concentration. For each type of AuNP, distinct heterogeneous cellular uptake of AuNPs by T. thermophila was observed. Intriguingly, for 5 nm AuNP, even at 0.001 ng/mL, some T. thermophila cells could concentrate AuNPs, indicating a real environmental concern even when water was contaminated by only trace level of NPs. This method represents a promising tool for simultaneous determination of physiological status of cells together with the intracellular level of heavy metal or metallic NPs in study of biological effects.