The assessment of cytotoxicity of nanostructures is a fundamental step for their development as biomedical tools. As widely used nanostructures, nickel nanowires (Ni NWs) seem promising candidates for such applications. In this work, Ni NWs were synthesized and then characterized using vibrating sample magnetometry, energy dispersive X-Ray analysis, and electron microscopy. After exposure to the NWs, cytotoxicity was evaluated in terms of cell viability, cell membrane damage, and induced apoptosis/necrosis on the model human cell line HCT 116. The influence of NW to cell ratio (10:1 to 1000:1) and exposure times up to 72 hours was analyzed for Ni NWs of 5.4 μm in length, as well as for Ni ions. The results show that cytotoxicity markedly increases past 24 hours of incubation. Cellular uptake of NWs takes place through the phagocytosis pathway, with a fraction of the dose of NWs dissolved inside the cells. Cell death results from a combination of apoptosis and necrosis, where the latter is the outcome of the secondary necrosis pathway. The cytotoxicity of Ni ions and Ni NWs dissolution studies suggest a synergistic toxicity between NW aspect ratio and dissolved Ni, with the cytotoxic effects markedly increasing after 24 hours of incubation.
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