Surface-mediated production of hydroxyl radicals as a mechanism of iron oxide nanoparticle biotoxicity

Maxim A. Voinov, Jason O.Sosa Pagán, Erin Morrison, Tatyana I. Smirnova, Alex I. Smirnov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

282 Scopus citations


Emerging applications of nanosized iron oxides in nanotechnology introduce vast quantities of nanomaterials into the human environment, thus raising some concerns. Here we report that the surface of γ-Fe2O3 nanoparticles 20-40 nm in diameter mediates production of highly reactive hydroxyl radicals (OH·) under conditions of the biologically relevant superoxide-driven Fenton reaction. By conducting comparative spin-trapping EPR experiments, we show that the free radical production is attributed primarily to the catalytic reactions at the nanoparticles surface rather than being caused by the dissolved metal ions released by the nanoparticles as previously thought. Moreover, the catalytic centers on the nanoparticle surface were found to be at least 50-fold more effective in OH · radical production than the dissolved Fe3+ ions. Conventional surface modification methods such as passivating the nanoparticles surface with up to 935 molecules of oleate or up to 18 molecules of bovine serum albumin per iron oxide core were found to be rather ineffective in suppressing production of the hydroxyl radicals. The experimental protocols developed in this study could be used as one of the approaches for developing analytical assays for assessing the free radical generating activity of a variety of nanomaterials that is potentially related to their biotoxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-41
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 12 2011


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