Nano-size particles show promise for pulmonary drug delivery, yet their behavior after deposition in the lung remains poorly understood. In this study, a series of near-infrared (NIR) fluorescent nanoparticles were systematically varied in chemical composition, shape, size and surface charge, and their biodistribution and elimination were quantified in rat models after lung instillation. We demonstrate that nanoparticles with hydrodynamic diameter (HD) less than ≈34 nm and a noncationic surface charge translocate rapidly from the lung to mediastinal lymph nodes. Nanoparticles of HD < 6 nm can traffic rapidly from the lungs to lymph nodes and the bloodstream, and then be subsequently cleared by the kidneys. We discuss the importance of these findings for drug delivery, air pollution and carcinogenesis.
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