Zinc oxide (ZnO) nanoparticles are the mostly used engineered metal oxide nanoparticles in consumer products. This has increased the likelihood of human exposure to this engineered nanoparticle (ENPs) through different routes. At present, the majority of the studies concerning ZnO ENPs toxicity have been conducted using in vitro and in vivo systems. In this study, for the first time we assessed the effect of ZnO ENPs on the major cellular pathways in the lymphocytes of healthy individuals as well as in susceptible patients suffering from lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. Using the differential expression analysis, we observed a significant (P < 0.05) dose-dependent (10, 20 and 40 microg/ml for 6h) increase in the expression of tumour suppressor protein p53 (40, 60 and 110%); Ras p21 (30, 52 and 80%); c-Jun N-terminal kinases; JNKs) (28, 47 and 78%) in lung cancer patient samples treated with ZnO ENPs compared to healthy controls. A similar trend was also seen in COPD patient samples where a significant (P < 0.05) dose-dependent increase in the expression of tumour suppressor protein p53 (26, 45 and 84%), Ras p21 (21, 40 and 77%), JNKs (17, 32 and 69%) was observed after 6h of ZnO ENPs treatment at the aforesaid concentrations. However, the increase in the expression profile of tested protein was not significant in the asthma patients as compared to controls. Our results reiterate the concern about the safety of ZnO ENPs in consumer products and suggest the need for a complete risk assessment of any new ENPs before its use.
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