Background: In nanotoxicology, the exact role of particle shape, in relation to the composition, on the capacity to induce toxicity is largely unknown. We investigated the toxic and immunotoxic effects of silver wires (length: 1.5 - 25 m; diameter 100 - 160 nm), spherical silver nanoparticles (30 nm) and silver microparticles (<45 m) on alveolar epithelial cells (A549). Methods: Wires and nanoparticles were synthesized by wet-chemistry methods and extensively characterized. Cell viability and cytotoxicity were assessed and potential immunotoxic effects were investigated. To compare the effects on an activated and a resting immune system, cells were stimulated with rhTNF- or left untreated. Changes in intracellular free calcium levels were determined using calcium imaging. Finally, ion release from the particles was assessed by ICP-MS and the effects of released ions on cell viability and cytotoxicity were tested. Results: No effects were observed for the spherical particles, whereas the silver wires significantly reduced cell viability and increased LDH release from A549 cells. Cytokine promoter induction and NF-B activation decreased in a concentration dependent manner similar to the decrease seen in cell viability. In addition, a strong increase of intracellular calcium levels within minutes after addition of wires was observed. This toxicity was not due to free silver ions, since the samples with the highest ion release did not induce toxicity and ion release control experiments with cells treated with pre-incubated medium did not show any effects either. Conclusions: These data showed that silver wires strongly affect the alveolar epithelial cells, whereas spherical silver particles had no effect. This supports the hypothesis that shape is one of the important factors that determine particle toxicity.