The crucial role of environmental coronas in determining the biological effects of engineered nanomaterials

Lining Xu, Ming Xu, Ruixia Wang, Yongguang Yin, Iseult Lynch, Sijin Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
308 Downloads (Pure)


In aquatic environments, a large number of ecological macromolecules (e.g., natural organic matter (NOM), extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), and proteins) can adsorb onto the surface of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) to form a unique environmental corona. The presence of environmental corona as an eco-nano interface can significantly alter the bioavailability, biocompatibility, and toxicity of pristine ENMs to aquatic organisms. However, as an emerging field, research on the impact of the environmental corona on the fate and behavior of ENMs in aquatic environments is still in its infancy. To promote a deeper understanding of its importance in driving or moderating ENM toxicity, this study systemically recapitulates the literature of representative types of macromolecules that are adsorbed onto ENMs; these constitute the environmental corona, including NOM, EPS, proteins, and surfactants. Next, the ecotoxicological effects of environmental corona-coated ENMs on representative aquatic organisms at different trophic levels are discussed in comparison to pristine ENMs, based on the reported studies. According to this analysis, molecular mechanisms triggered by pristine and environmental corona-coated ENMs are compared, including membrane adhesion, membrane damage, cellular internalization, oxidative stress, immunotoxicity, genotoxicity, and reproductive toxicity. Finally, current knowledge gaps and challenges in this field are discussed from the ecotoxicology perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2003691
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 11 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded via the National Natural Science Foundation of China (21922611, 21637004 and 21920102007), the Youth Innovation Promotion Association of Chinese Academy of Sciences (2019042), the Natural Science Foundation of Beijing Municipality (8191002), the international collaboration key grant from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (121311KYSB20190010). the national ?973? program (2014CB932000), the Royal Society Exchange (IEC\NSFC\181712) and the Environmental Pollution Solutions emerging theme of the Institute for Global Innovation at the University of Birmingham (2076). The authors thank Andrew Chetwynd, Zhiling Guo, and Peng Zhang for the suggestions on the formulation of this.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Published by Wiley-VCH GmbH

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • aquatic environment
  • aquatic organism
  • ecotoxicological effect
  • engineered nanomaterials
  • environmental corona

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biomaterials
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science


Dive into the research topics of 'The crucial role of environmental coronas in determining the biological effects of engineered nanomaterials'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this