Toxicological assessment of silica particles functionalised with essential oil components and their constituents

  1. Cristina Fuentes López
Supervised by:
  1. José Manuel Barat Baviera Director
  2. Maria José Ruiz Leal Director
  3. Ana Fuentes López Director

Defence university: Universitat Politècnica de València

Year of defence: 2022

  1. Carlos Lodeiro Espiño Chair
  2. Mónica Fernández Franzón Secretary
  3. Juan Antonio Tamayo Ramos Committee member

Type: Thesis


Functionalisation of silica particles with essential oils components (EOCs) has emerged as a useful tool for enhancing EOCs' antimicrobial activity and stability. Given these new materials' promising applications for the food industry, toxicological studies must be performed to identify possible hazards for human health. In the present doctoral thesis, the potential risk deriving from oral exposure to three types of silica particles (SAS, MCM-41 microparticles, MCM-41 nanoparticles) functionalised with four different EOCs (carvacrol, eugenol, thymol, vanillin) was investigated and compared to free EOCs and pristine particles. For this purpose, three different replacement methods were used as a strategy to carry out the toxicological assessment of these new materials: simulated physiological conditions, HepG2 culture cells and the non-mammalian organism model Caenorhabditis elegans. As the expected human exposure to these materials was the oral route, the first step in the toxicological assessment of the silica particles was to study their degradation behaviour in acellular physiological fluids that mimic oral exposure conditions. The results showed that functionalisation of silica with EOCs increases particles' biodurability under conditions representing the human gastrointestinal tract and lysosomal fluid, as observed by both, the lower dissolution rates in the different functionalised particle types and the preservation of the EOCs-functionalised MCM-41 nanoparticles structure. However, the agglomeration state of the particles did not change under the physiological conditions, which remained within the micro-sized range in all cases. Therefore, given their large size, these materials present a low risk of accumulation after oral ingestion. The in vitro toxicity study showed that EOCs-functionalised particles displayed stronger cytotoxic effect than the free EOCs and pristine silica. Independently of EOC type, the EOCs-functionalised MCM-41 microparticles were the most cytotoxic materials from the different silica particle types analysed. Our results suggest that the EOCs-functionalised particles induce toxicity on HepG2 cells by an oxidative stress-related mechanism that causes mitochondrial dysfunction and apoptosis activation via the mitochondrial pathway. This cytotoxic effect was caused by direct cell-particle interactions, and not by degradation products released to culture media. Acute exposure to moderate and high concentrations of EOCs reduced HepG2 viability and nematode survival. The toxicity ranking was maintained between culture cells and nematodes, being carvacrol the most toxic compound followed by thymol, eugenol, and lastly by vanillin. Moreover, sublethal concentrations to these components induced reproductive toxicity in C. elegans, which suggests that they may present toxic effects at the concentrations required for their bioactive properties. The in vivo toxicity study of the particles showed that both the bare and EOCs-functionalised particles cause acute reproductive toxicity and inhibition in nematode growth and reproduction after long-term exposure. The vanillin-functionalised particles displayed milder acute toxic effects, but severer long-term exposure toxicological responses. However, the eugenol-functionalised particles exhibited stronger effects than the bare and vanillin-functionalised silica.