Abstract Background Gold nanoparticles (Au-NPs) have extensive applications in electronics and biomedicine, resulting in increased exposure and prompting safety concerns for human health. After absorption, nanoparticles enter circulation and effect endothelial cells. We previously showed that exposure to Au-NPs (40â 50â nm) collapsed endothelial tight junctions and increased their paracellular permeability. Inhaled nanoparticles have gained significant attention due to their biodistribution in the brain; however, little is known regarding their role in cerebral edema. The present study investigated the expression of aquaporin 1 (AQP1) in the cerebral endothelial cell line, bEnd.3, stimulated by Au-NPs. Results We found that treatment with Au-NPs induced AQP1 expression and increased endothelial permeability to water. Au-NP exposure rapidly boosted the phosphorylation levels of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) and AKT, increased the accumulation of caveolin 1 (Cav1), and reduced the activity of extracellular regulated protein kinases (ERK). The inhibition of AKT (GDC-0068) or FAK (PF-573228) not only rescued ERK activity but also prevented AQP1 induction, whereas Au-NP-mediated Cav1 accumulation remained unaltered. Neither these signaling molecules nor AQP1 expression responded to Au-NPs while Cav1 was silenced. Inhibition of ERK activity (U0126) remarkably enhanced Cav1 and AQP1 expression in bEnd.3 cells. These data demonstrate that Au-NP-mediated AQP1 induction is Cav1 dependent, but requires the repression on ERK activity. Mice receiving intranasally administered Au-NPs displayed cerebral edema, significantly augmented AQP1 protein levels; furthermore, mild focal lesions were observed in the cerebral parenchyma. Conclusions These data suggest that the subacute exposure of nanoparticles might induce cerebral edema, involving the Cav1 dependent accumulation on endothelial AQP1.