Nanotheranostics 2019; 3(1):54-65. doi:10.7150/ntno.27452

Research Paper

Comparing Semiconductor Nanocrystal Toxicity in Pregnant Mice and Non-Human Primates

Ling Ye1✉*, Rui Hu2*, Liwei Liu2, Jianwei Liu1, Jing Liu1, Hongyan Chen1, Yazhuo Hu1, Yaqian Liu3, Xin Liu4, Cui Liu4, Danny Jian Hang Tng5, Yuanguang Meng6, Junle Qu2, Mark T. Swihart7✉, Ken-Tye Yong8✉

1. Institute of Gerontology and Geriatrics and Beijing Key Lab of Aging and Geriatrics, Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing 100853, P. R. China
2. Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Devices and Systems of Ministry of Education and Guangdong Province, College of Optoelectronic Engineering, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen 518060, P. R. China
3. Laboratory Animal Center, Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing 100853, P. R. China
4. Department of Nan-Lou Ultrasound, Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing 100853, P.R. China
5. Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore 169857, Singapore
6. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Chinese PLA General Hospital, Beijing 100853, P. R. China
7. Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University at Buffalo, USA
8. School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 639798, Singapore
*These authors contributed equally to this work

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Ye L, Hu R, Liu L, Liu J, Liu J, Chen H, Hu Y, Liu Y, Liu X, Liu C, Tng DJH, Meng Y, Qu J, Swihart MT, Yong KT. Comparing Semiconductor Nanocrystal Toxicity in Pregnant Mice and Non-Human Primates. Nanotheranostics 2019; 3(1):54-65. doi:10.7150/ntno.27452. Available from

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Rationale: Despite growing use of engineered nanomaterials (ENM) in applications from electronics to medicine, the potential risk to human health remains a critical concern within clinical use. ENM exposure during pregnancy can potentially cause reproductive toxicity even at levels that produce no measurable harm to animals in normal conditions.

Methods: Phospholipid micelle-encapsulated CdSe/CdS/ZnS semiconductor nanocrystals with an average hydrodynamic diameter of 60 nm were intravenously injected during pregnancy in both rodent and nonhuman primate animal models. Cadmium concentration levels and maternal haematological and biochemical markers were determined, along with histopathological examination of major organs.

Results: Nanocrystals were found to have crossed the placenta from mother to fetus in both rodents and nonhuman primates. However, the animal models display different responses with respect to reproductive toxicity. In the rodent model, toxicity symptoms are absent in treated subjects, with no observed gestational or fetal abnormalities and complications. A significantly higher miscarriage rate of 60% is recorded for macaques after prenatal nanoparticle administration. There was a miscarriage rate of 15% in the general population despite only ~0.16% of the initial cadmium dose present in the fetus. Blood and biochemical markers of treated macaques indicate acute hepatocellular injury within a week after nanoparticle administration. Histology of major organs of the miscarried macaque fetuses show no abnormalities.

Conclusion: The potential of nanomaterials to cross the placenta and impact fetal survival in primates suggest the necessity of precautionary measures to prevent gestational exposure of ENMs.

Keywords: quantum dots, nanotoxicology, biophotonics, engineered nanomaterials