Background: Nanotoxicology is an increasingly relevant field and sound paradigms on how inhaled nanoparticles (NPs) interact with organs at the cellular level, causing harmful conditions, have yet to be established. This is particularly true in the case of the cardiovascular system, where experimental and clinical evidence shows morphological and functional damage associated with NP exposure. Giving the increasing interest on cobalt oxide (Co3O4) NPs applications in industrial and bio-medical fields, a detailed knowledge of the involved toxicological effects is required, in view of assessing health risk for subjects/workers daily exposed to nanomaterials. Specifically, it is of interest to evaluate whether NPs enter cardiac cells and interact with cell function. We addressed this issue by investigating the effect of acute exposure to Co3O4-NPs on excitation-contraction coupling in freshly isolated rat ventricular myocytes. Results: Patch clamp analysis showed instability of resting membrane potential, decrease in membrane electrical capacitance, and dose-dependent decrease in action potential duration in cardiomyocytes acutely exposed to Co3O4-NPs. Motion detection and intracellular calcium fluorescence highlighted a parallel impairment of cell contractility in comparison with controls. Specifically, NP-treated cardiomyocytes exhibited a dose-dependent decrease in the fraction of shortening and in the maximal rate of shortening and re-lengthening, as well as a less efficient cytosolic calcium clearing and an increased tendency to develop spontaneous twitches. In addition, treatment with Co3O4-NPs strongly increased ROS accumulation and induced nuclear DNA damage in a dose dependent manner. Finally, transmission electron microscopy analysis demonstrated that acute exposure did lead to cellular internalization of NPs. Conclusions: Taken together, our observations indicate that Co3O4-NPs alter cardiomyocyte electromechanical efficiency and intracellular calcium handling, and induce ROS production resulting in oxidative stress that can be related to DNA damage and adverse effects on cardiomyocyte functionality.
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