Stephanie Damaj, Farah Trad, Dennis Goevert, Jeff Wilkesmann

Bridging the Gaps between Microplastics and Human Health

  • General Medicine

Given the broad and intense use of plastic, society is being increasingly affected by its degradation and by-products, particularly by microplastics (MPs), fragments smaller than 5 mm in size, and nanoplastics (NPs), with sizes less than 1 µm. MPs and NPs may enter the body primarily through inhalation, consumption, and skin contact. Once ingested, MPs can penetrate tissues, deviating to other parts of the body and potentially affecting important cellular pathways such as nonconforming chemokine receptors that control the communication between the fetus and the mother. Consequently, the potential health harm induced via MP internalization is a major issue, evidenced by multiple studies demonstrating harmful consequences in diverse animal models and human cells. Here, an overview of the various modes of exposure to MPs and NPs is presented, including inhalation, placental transfer, ingestion, breastmilk consumption, and skin absorption, as well as placental and fetal toxicity due to plastic particles based on animal and in vitro studies. Though MPs in our environment are becoming more recognized, their developmental toxicity is still scarcely known. Besides negatively affecting pregnancy, MPs and NPs have been shown to potentially harm the developing fetus, given their ability to cross the placental barrier. Still, considerable gaps remain in our understanding of the dispersion and toxicity of these particles in the environment and the precise types of NPs and MPs bearing the greatest dangers. As a result, we advocate for larger-scale epidemiological investigations, the development of novel approaches for measuring NP and MP exposures, and the necessity of understanding the toxicity of various kinds of NPs to guide future research efforts.

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