Pollution caused by nanoplastics: adverse effects and mechanisms of interaction via molecular simulation

YM Oliveira and NS Vernin and DM Bila and M Marques and FW Tavares, PEERJ, 10, e13618 (2022).

DOI: 10.7717/peerj.13618

The continuous increase in the production of synthetic plastics for decades and the inadequate disposal of plastic waste have resulted in a considerable increase of these materials in aquatic environments, which has developed into a major environmental concern. In addition to conventional parameters, the relevance of the environmental monitoring of microplastics (MPs) and nanoplastics (NPs) has been highlighted by the scientific community due to the potential adverse effects these materials pose to the ecosystem as well as to human health. The literature has registered an increasing interest in understanding the mechanisms, at the molecular level, of the interaction between NPs and other compounds using molecular simulation techniques. The present review aims to: (i) summarize the force fields conventionally used to describe NPs by molecular simulations; (ii) discuss the effects of NPs in the structural and dynamical properties of biological membranes; (iii) evaluate how NPs affect the folding of proteins; (iv) discuss the mechanisms by which NPs adsorb contaminants from the environment. NPs can affect the secondary structure of proteins and change the lateral organization and diffusion of lipid membranes. As a result, they may alter the lipid digestion in the gastrointestinal system representing a risk to the assimilation of the nutrients by humans. The adsorption of contaminants on MPs and NPs can potentiate their harmful effects on human health, due to a possible synergism. Therefore, understanding the mechanisms involved in these interactions is crucial to predict dangerous combinations and outline action strategies that reduce negative impacts on ecosystems and human health. Depending on the chemical properties of contaminants and NPs, electrostatic and/or van der Waals interactions can be more relevant in explaining the adsorption process. Finally, we conclude by highlighting gaps in the literature and the critical aspects for future investigations.

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