BACKGROUND:Nanotechnology has the potential to provide agriculture with new tools that may be used in the rapid detection and molecular treatment of diseases and enhancement of plant ability to absorb nutrients, among others. Data on nanoparticle toxicity in plants is largely heterogeneous with a diversity of physicochemical parameters reported, which difficult generalizations. Here a cell biology approach was used to evaluate the impact of Quantum Dots (QDs) nanocrystals on plant cells, including their effect on cell growth, cell viability, oxidative stress and ROS accumulation, besides their cytomobility.RESULTS:A plant cell suspension culture of Medicago sativa was settled for the assessment of the impact of the addition of mercaptopropanoic acid coated CdSe/ZnS QDs. Cell growth was significantly reduced when 100 mM of mercaptopropanoic acid -QDs was added during the exponential growth phase, with less than 50% of the cells viable 72 hours after mercaptopropanoic acid -QDs addition. They were up taken by Medicago sativa cells and accumulated in the cytoplasm and nucleus as revealed by optical thin confocal imaging. As part of the cellular response to internalization, Medicago sativa cells were found to increase the production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in a dose and time dependent manner. Using the fluorescent dye H2DCFDA it was observable that mercaptopropanoic acid-QDs concentrations between 5-180 nM led to a progressive and linear increase of ROS accumulation.CONCLUSIONS:Our results showed that the extent of mercaptopropanoic acid coated CdSe/ZnS QDs cytotoxicity in plant cells is dependent upon a number of factors including QDs properties, dose and the environmental conditions of administration and that, for Medicago sativa cells, a safe range of 1-5 nM should not be exceeded for biological applications.