Silver nanoparticles (AgNPs) are widely used in the household, medical and industrial sectors due to their effective bactericidal activities and unique plasmonic properties. Despite the promising advantages, safety concerns have been raised over the usage of AgNPs because they pose potential hazards. However, the mechanistic basis behind AgNPs toxicity, particularly the sublethal effects at the organismal level, has remained unclear. In this study, we used a powerful in vivo platform Drosophila melanogaster to explore a wide spectrum of adverse effects exerted by dietary AgNPs at the organismal, cellular and molecular levels. Lethal doses of dietary AgNPs caused developmental delays and profound lethality in developing animals and young adults. In contrast, exposure to sublethal doses, while not deadly to developing animals, shortened the adult lifespan and compromised their tolerance to oxidative stress. Importantly, AgNPs mechanistically resulted in tissue-wide accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and activated the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant pathway, as demonstrated by an Nrf2 activity reporter in vivo. Finally, dietary AgNPs caused a variety of ROS-mediated stress responses, including apoptosis, DNA damage, and autophagy. Altogether, our study suggests that lethal and sublethal doses of AgNPs, have acute and chronic effects, respectively, on development and longevity by inducing ROS-mediated stress responses.
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