Crystalline NiS, CuS, CoS2, and CdS particles were actively phagocytosed by cells and potently induced morphological transformation of Syrian hamster embryo cells in a concentration-dependent fashion. In contrast, the respective amorphous metal sulfide particles (amorphous NiS, CuS, CoS, and CdS) were not as actively phagocytosed by cultured cells and, in comparison to the crystalline form of these compounds, induced considerably less morphological transformation at both cytotoxic and noncytotoxic exposure levels. Chemical reduction of positively charged amorphous NiS with LiAIH4 resulted in active phagocytosis of these particles which was also associated with enhancement of cellular transformation. Crystalline but not amorphous NiS caused considerable strand breaks in the DNA of Chinese hamster ovary cells following 2 to 3 hr exposure at 10 µg/ml as determined by alkaline sucrose gradient techniques with subsequent determination of DNA molecular weight. Phagocytized inert particles such as latex beads did not induce transformation or DNA damage, suggesting that genotoxic dissolution products such as Ni2+ rather than the phagocytized particles are responsible for the observed DNA damage and cellular transformation. NiCl2 was about one-third to one-half as potent in inducing cellular transformation compared to crystalline NiS on a weight basis. These results correlate the selective phagocytosis of crystalline metal sulfides to their more potent activity in the induction of cellular transformation.

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Primary funding for this research project was provided by the Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency, under Grant R-808048. Additional funding was provided by Research Training Grant ES07090 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and by Research Contract DE-AS05-81ER60016 from the United States Department of Energy. The Environmental Protection Agency does not necessarily endorse any commercial products used in this study and the conclusions represent the views of the authors and do not necessarily represent the opinions, policies, or recommendations of the EPA.

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