Theranostics 2016; 6(11):1810-1820. doi:10.7150/thno.16127

Research Paper

Silica Nanoparticles Target a Wnt Signal Transducer for Degradation and Impair Embryonic Development in Zebrafish

Hongyang Yi1,2,*, Zhuyao Wang1,2,*, Xiaojiao Li1,2,*, Min Yin3, Lihua Wang3, Ali Aldalbahi4, Nahed Nasser El-Sayed4, Hui Wang1,2, Nan Chen3, ✉, Chunhai Fan3, ✉, Haiyun Song1,2,✉

1. Key Laboratory of Food Safety Research, Institute for Nutritional Sciences, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of sciences, Shanghai 200031, China
2. Key Laboratory of Food Safety Risk Assessment, Ministry of Health, Beijing 100021, China
3. Division of Physical Biology and Bioimaging Center, Shanghai Synchrotron Radiation Facility, CAS Key Laboratory of Interfacial Physics and Technology, Shanghai Institute of Applied Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shanghai 201800, China
4. Chemistry Department, King Saud University, Riyadh 11451, Saudi Arabia
* These authors contributed equally to this work.


Many types of biocompatible nanomaterials have proven of low cytotoxicity and hold great promise for various applications in nanomedicine. Whereas they generally do not cause apparent organ toxicity or tissue damage in adult animals, it is yet to determine their biological consequences in more general contexts. In this study, we investigate how silica nanoparticles (NPs) affect cellular activities and functions under several physiological or pathological conditions. Although silica NPs are generally regarded as “inert” nanocarriers and widely employed in biomedical studies, we find that they actively affect Wnt signaling in various types of cell lines, diminishing its anti-adipogenic effect in preadipocytes and pro-invasive effect in breast cancer cells, and more significantly, impair Wnt-regulated embryonic development in Zebrafish. We further demonstrate that intracellular silica NPs block Wnt signal transduction in a way resembling signaling molecules. Specifically, silica NPs target the Dvl protein, a key component of Wnt signaling cascade, for lysosomal degradation. As Wnt signaling play significant roles in embryonic development and adipogenesis, the observed physiological effects beyond toxicity imply potential risk of obesity, or developmental defects in somitogenesis and osteogenesis upon exposure to silica NPs. In addition, given the clinical implications of Wnt signaling in tumorigenesis and cancer metastasis, our work also establishes for the first time a molecular link between nanomaterials and the Wnt signaling pathway, which opens new door for novel applications of unmodified silica NPs in targeted therapy for cancers and other critical illness.

Keywords: silica nanoparticles, signal transduction, embryonic development, obesity, cancer metastasis

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How to cite this article:
Yi H, Wang Z, Li X, Yin M, Wang L, Aldalbahi A, El-Sayed NN, Wang H, Chen N, Fan C, Song H. Silica Nanoparticles Target a Wnt Signal Transducer for Degradation and Impair Embryonic Development in Zebrafish. Theranostics 2016; 6(11):1810-1820. doi:10.7150/thno.16127. Available from