Spatiotemporal distribution and speciation of silver nanoparticles in the healing wound

Marco Roman* (Corresponding Author), Chiara Rigo, Hiram Castillo-Michel, Dagmar Urgast, Jörg Feldmann, Ivan Munivrana, Vincenzo Vindigni, Ivan Mičetić, Federico Benetti, Carlo Barbante, Warren R.L. Cairns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The medical application of nanomaterials is growing fast. Amongst the most widely used, silver nanoparticles are antimicrobial agents whose key application is the care of burns and chronic wounds. Still, their absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion behaviour in vivo has not yet been systematically investigated. We collected full-profile specimens of skin from four hospital patients with mid-to-deep thickness burns or equivalent skin wounds, treated with dressings containing silver nanoparticles or silver sulfadiazine. Synchrotron radiation µXRF/µXANES and laser ablation-ICP-MS were used to provide the first semi- quantitative/high resolution direct information on the spatiotemporal distribution and speciation of silver in vivo. The metal was rapidly released onto the wound surface, followed by a significant structure-dependent penetration into the damaged tissues. This was accompanied by sequential processes of metallic silver dissolution, chloride complexation, change to metal-thiol protein complexes, and final mobilization into deeper skin layers towards the vascular networks. Complete local clearance of silver was observed after 12 days of treatment in the case of full healing. The results provide a complete insight into the dynamics of silver in real human wounds, and a new basis for the design
of innovative silver nanomaterials with optimal antibacterial efficacy and minimized risk for the patient.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6456-6469
Number of pages14
Issue number20
Early online date27 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Aug 2020


  • Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs)
  • Wound healing
  • Burn
  • Elemental imaging
  • Elemental speciation
  • Synchrotron radiation
  • Laser ablation ICP-MS

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