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Iron oxide nanoparticles (IONs) are used in a number of applications from food to cosmetics and from medical applications to magnetic storage. In spite of the 550 tons produced each year in Europe alone, no effective dose limit recommendations are established and the overall risks connected to IONs are still debated. The incorporation of IONs in daily life raises a concern about their effects on the environment, on living organisms, and on human health. In this study, we used freshwater planarians to assess the nanoecotoxicity of IONs. Planarians are free-living invertebrates known for their astonishing regenerative ability. Because of their sensitivity to toxicants, they are often used to determine the effects of toxic, genotoxic, and carcinogenic environmental compounds with an approach in line with the 3Rs (Reduce, Refine, Replace) principle. Planarians were exposed to IONs at concentrations up to 1 mg/ml and their effects were evaluated at the behavioral, morphofunctional, and molecular levels, with a special emphasis on the regeneration process. Our results indicate that IONs did not affect the stem cell population dynamics, nor did they induce substantial changes in either homeostatic or regenerating planarians. As positive controls, gold nanoparticles coated with the pro-apoptotic anti-cancer drug hexadecylmethylammonium bromide and highly concentrated polystyrene nanoparticles were used; these all elicited toxic effects. Therefore, we conclude that IONs at environmental concentrations are safe for planarians, and that the planarian is a powerful model system that can replace vertebrate animal models in nanoecotoxicology research and for nanoecotoxicology studies.
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