Aluminum doping tunes band gap energy level as well as oxidative stress-mediated cytotoxicity of ZnO nanoparticles in MCF-7 cells
We investigated whether Aluminum (Al) doping tunes band gap energy level as well as selective cytotoxicity of ZnO nanoparticles in human breast cancer cells (MCF-7). Pure and Al-doped ZnO nanoparticles were prepared by a simple sol-gel method. Characterization study confirmed the formation of single phase of AlxZn1-xO nanocrystals with the size range of 33-55 nm. Al-doping increased the band gap energy of ZnO nanoparticles (from 3.51 eV for pure to 3.87 eV for Al-doped ZnO). Al-doping also enhanced the cytotoxicity and oxidative stress response of ZnO nanoparticles in MCF-7 cells. The IC50 for undoped ZnO nanoparticles was 44 μg/ml while for the Al-doped ZnO counterparts was 31 μg/ml. Up-regulation of apoptotic genes (e.g. p53, bax/bcl2 ratio, caspase-3 & caspase-9) along with loss of mitochondrial membrane potential suggested that Al-doped ZnO nanoparticles induced apoptosis in MCF-7 cells through mitochondrial pathway. Importantly, Al-doping did not change the benign nature of ZnO nanoparticles towards normal cells suggesting that Al-doping improves the selective cytotoxicity of ZnO nanoparticles toward MCF-7 cells without affecting the normal cells. Our results indicated a novel approach through which the inherent selective cytotoxicity of ZnO nanoparticles against cancer cells can be further improved.