Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

The puzzling issue of silica toxicity: are silanols bridging the gaps between surface states and pathogenicity?

Pavan, C.; Delle Piane, M.; Gullo, M.; Filippi, F.; Fubini, B.; Hoet, P.; Horwell, C.J.; Huaux, F.; Lison, D.; Lo Giudice, C.; Martra, G.; Montfort, E.; Schins, R.; Sulpizi, M.; Wegner, K.; Wyart-Remy, M.; Ziemann, C.; Turci, F.

The puzzling issue of silica toxicity: are silanols bridging the gaps between surface states and pathogenicity? Thumbnail


C. Pavan

M. Delle Piane

M. Gullo

F. Filippi

B. Fubini

P. Hoet

F. Huaux

D. Lison

C. Lo Giudice

G. Martra

E. Montfort

R. Schins

M. Sulpizi

K. Wegner

M. Wyart-Remy

C. Ziemann

F. Turci


Background: Silica continues to represent an intriguing topic of fundamental and applied research across various scientific fields, from geology to physics, chemistry, cell biology, and particle toxicology. The pathogenic activity of silica is variable, depending on the physico-chemical features of the particles. In the last 50 years, crystallinity and capacity to generate free radicals have been recognized as relevant features for silica toxicity. The ‘surface’ also plays an important role in silica toxicity, but this term has often been used in a very general way, without defining which properties of the surface are actually driving toxicity. How the chemical features (e.g., silanols and siloxanes) and configuration of the silica surface can trigger toxic responses remains incompletely understood. Main body: Recent developments in surface chemistry, cell biology and toxicology provide new avenues to improve our understanding of the molecular mechanisms of the adverse responses to silica particles. New physicochemical methods can finely characterize and quantify silanols at the surface of silica particles. Advanced computational modelling and atomic force microscopy offer unique opportunities to explore the intimate interactions between silica surface and membrane models or cells. In recent years, interdisciplinary research, using these tools, has built increasing evidence that surface silanols are critical determinants of the interaction between silica particles and biomolecules, membranes, cell systems, or animal models. It also has become clear that silanol configuration, and eventually biological responses, can be affected by impurities within the crystal structure, or coatings covering the particle surface. The discovery of new molecular targets of crystalline as well as amorphous silica particles in the immune system and in epithelial lung cells represents new possible toxicity pathways. Cellular recognition systems that detect specific features of the surface of silica particles have been identified. Conclusions: Interdisciplinary research bridging surface chemistry to toxicology is progressively solving the puzzling issue of the variable toxicity of silica. Further interdisciplinary research is ongoing to elucidate the intimate mechanisms of silica pathogenicity, to possibly mitigate or reduce surface reactivity. Keywords: Silica, Silicosis, Lung cancer, Auto-immune diseases, Surface reactivity, Silanol, Coating, Modelling, Spectroscopy, Atomic force microscopy


Pavan, C., Delle Piane, M., Gullo, M., Filippi, F., Fubini, B., Hoet, P., …Turci, F. (2019). The puzzling issue of silica toxicity: are silanols bridging the gaps between surface states and pathogenicity?. Particle and Fibre Toxicology, 16(1), Article 32.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 5, 2019
Online Publication Date Sep 16, 2019
Publication Date 2019
Deposit Date Sep 4, 2019
Publicly Available Date Sep 4, 2019
Journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology
Publisher BioMed Central
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Issue 1
Article Number 32


Published Journal Article (903 Kb)

Publisher Licence URL

Copyright Statement
© The Author(s). 2019 Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and
reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to
the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver
( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations