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New Platform Evaluates the Risk of Plastic Pollution to Human Health

Review of “Platform to study intracellular polystyrene nanoplastic pollution and clinical outcomes” from STEM CELLS by Stuart P. Atkinson

While our awareness of plastic pollution has grown in recent years, the impact of nanosized plastics on human health remains relatively unknown [1, 2]. Research efforts have reported the negative influence of polystyrene nanoplastic (PSNP) exposure in bovine oviductal epithelial cells and embryos [3] and also human somatic and cancer cells [4, 5]; however, these limited model systems do not permit the investigation of complex biological and developmental issues.

Now, researchers led by Miodrag Stojkovic (SPEBO Medical Fertility Hospital, Leskovac, Serbia) have investigated the influence of PSNPs on the gene expression profiles of human expanded blastocysts and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Their findings, published recently in STEM CELLS [6], underscore the importance of understanding the bioactivity of nanoplastics and describe the potential implications to human health.

Bojic et al. discovered that exposure of expanded blastocysts and iPSCs to PSNPs led to gene expression changes that included the downregulation of pluripotency gene expression and the upregulation of genes related to eye development. Gene set enrichment analysis in iPSCs also established that PSNPs prompted alterations to gene expression patterns that influenced the development of atrioventricular heart valves and the dysfunction of cellular components, including the extracellular matrix. Finally, the authors sought to obtain insight into the altered processes of diverse signaling pathways in PSNP-exposed iPSCs through their transcriptomic data using a mathematical model [7] that can help to uncover disease mechanisms and allows predicting relevant clinical outcomes [8]. Interestingly, this analysis highlighted several altered circuits, including APOC3, that can prompt an increased risk of ischemic cardiovascular disease.

This fascinating new study provides evidence for the utility of this platform as a means to evaluate the biological impact of plastic pollution, although they do highlight the need for further functional studies to complement this data. Additionally, the authors suggest that this platform can be widened to allow the investigation of food contaminants, pesticides, insecticides, additives, toxic home products, synthetic fragrances, and other everyday products.

For more on how plastic pollution may affect human health, stay tuned to the Stem Cells Portal!



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  2. Lehner R, Weder C, Petri-Fink A, et al., Emergence of Nanoplastic in the Environment and Possible Impact on Human Health. Environmental Science & Technology 2019;53:1748-1765.
  3. Barbato V, Talevi R, Gualtieri R, et al., Polystyrene nanoparticles may affect cell mitosis and compromise early embryo development in mammals. Theriogenology 2020;145:18-23.
  4. Xu M, Halimu G, Zhang Q, et al., Internalization and toxicity: A preliminary study of effects of nanoplastic particles on human lung epithelial cell. Science of The Total Environment 2019;694:133794.
  5. Wu B, Wu X, Liu S, et al., Size-dependent effects of polystyrene microplastics on cytotoxicity and efflux pump inhibition in human Caco-2 cells. Chemosphere 2019;221:333-341.
  6. Bojic S, Falco MM, Stojkovic P, et al., Platform to study intracellular polystyrene nanoplastic pollution and clinical outcomes. STEM CELLS 2020;38:1321-1325.
  7. Andréll P, Ekre O, Grip L, et al., Fatality, morbidity and quality of life in patients with refractory angina pectoris. International Journal of Cardiology 2011;147:377-382.
  8. Peña-Chilet M, Esteban-Medina M, Falco MM, et al., Using mechanistic models for the clinical interpretation of complex genomic variation. Scientific Reports 2019;9:18937.