Quantification of nanoparticle uptake by cells using an unbiased sampling method and electron microscopy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • A. Elsaesser
  • C.A. Barnes
  • G. McKerr
  • C.V. Howard
  • A. Salvati
  • K.A. Dawson

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • University College Dublin
  • University of Ulster


Aims: By randomly sampling a known fraction of a pellet of cultured cells, we have accurately estimated the mean number of 50 nm gold nanoparticles accumulated within a single cell. Cellular nanoparticle uptake was measured using a combination of stereological sampling techniques and transmission electron microscopy. Materials & Methods: Nanoparticles were counted individually and their intracellular location was recorded. Quantifying cell and nanoparticle number by analyzing a known fraction of the sample led to precise estimates of intracellular nanoparticle numbers and their spatial locations on an ultrastructural level. We propose a simple and reliable fractionator design and show its applicability and potential using fibroblast cells exposed to 50-nm gold nanoparticles. Results & Conclusion: We demonstrate that this approach is suitable for any electron-dense nanomaterial resolvable by electron microscopy and any convex-shaped cells. In addition, the fractionator concept is flexible enough to be used for spatio-temporal or in vivo studies.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1189-1198
Number of pages10
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2011