Microplastics in the human digestive environment: a focus on the potential and challenges facing in vitro gut model development

Elora Fournier, Lucie Etienne-Mesmin, Charlotte GROOTAERT, Lotte Jelsbak, Kristian Syberg, Stéphanie BLANQUET-DIOT, Muriel Mercier-Bonin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Plastic pollution is a major issue worldwide, generating massive amounts of smaller plastic particles, including microplastics (MPs). Their ubiquitous nature in the environment but also in foodstuff and consumer packaged goods has revealed potential threats to humans who can be contaminated mainly through air, food and water consumption. In this review, the current literature on human exposure to MPs is summarized with a focus on the gastrointestinal tract as portal of entry. Then, we discuss the vector effect of MPs, in their pristine versus weathered forms, with well-known contaminants as heavy metals and chemicals, or more emerging ones as antibiotics or microbial pathogens, like Pseudomonas spp., Vibrio spp., Campylobacter spp. and Escherichia coli. Comprehensive knowledge on MP fate in the gastrointestinal tract and their potential impact on gut homeostasis disruption, including gut microbiota, mucus and epithelial barrier, is reported in vitro and in vivo in mammals. Special emphasis is given on the crucial need of developing robust in vitro gut models to adequately simulate human digestive physiology and absorption processes. Finally, this review points out future research directions on MPs in human intestinal health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number125632
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Issue number415
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Digestion
  • Human in vitro gut models
  • Intestinal barrier
  • Microplastics
  • Vector effect

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