Inhaled ultrafine (nano) particles can translocate into the bloodstream and interact with circulatory cells causing systemic and cardiovascular events. To gain more insight into this potential mechanism, we studied the interaction of diesel exhaust particles (DEP) with human, rat and mouse erythrocytes in vitro. Incubation of erythrocytes with DEP (1, 10 or 100 µg/ml) for 30 min caused the highest hemolytic effect (up to 38%) in rats, compared to small but significant hemolysis in mice (up to 2.5%) and humans (up to 0.7%). Transmission electron microscopy of erythrocytes revealed the presence of variable degrees of ultrafine (nano)-sized aggregates of DEP either internalized and/or adsorbed onto the erythrocytes in the three species. A significant amount of DEP was found in rat and mouse (but not human) erythrocytes. Lipid erythrocyte susceptibility to in vitro peroxidation measured by malondialdehyde showed a significant and dose-dependent increase in erythrocytes of rats, but not humans or mice. Unlike in human erythrocytes, total antioxidant status (TAS) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity in rats were significantly and dose- dependently decreased. In mouse erythrocytes, DEP caused a decreased in SOD (at 10 µg/ml) and TAS (at 100 µg/ml) activities. In conclusion, DEP caused species–dependent erythrocyte hemolysis and oxidative stress, and were either taken up and/or adsorbed onto the red blood cells. Rat (and to a lesser degree mouse) erythrocytes were susceptible to DEP. Human erythrocytes showed the highest resistance to the observed effects. These species difference should be noted when using rats and mice blood as models for humans.

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