Ocular drug delivery is an interesting field in current research. Silica nanoparticles (SiNPs) are promising drug carriers for ophthalmic drug delivery. However, little is known about the toxicity of SiNPs on ocular surface cells such as human corneal epithelial cells (HCECs). In this study, we evaluated the cytotoxicity induced by 50, 100 and 150 nm sizes of SiNPs on cultured HCECs for up to 48 hours. SiNPs were up-taken by HCECs inside cytoplasmic vacuoles. Cellular reactive oxygen species generation was mildly elevated, dose dependently, with SiNPs, but no significant decrease of cellular viability was observed up to concentrations of 100 μg/ml for three different sized SiNPs. Western blot assays revealed that both cellular autophagy and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathways were activated with the addition of SiNPs. Our findings suggested that 50, 100 and 150 nm sized SiNPs did not induce significant cytotoxicity in cultured HCECs.
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