Effect of MWCNT size, carboxylation, and purification on in vitro and in vivo toxicity, inflammation and lung pathology

Raymond F. Hamilton, Zheqiong Wu, Somenath Mitra, Pamela K. Shaw, Andrij Holian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Background: Several properties of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) have the potential to affect their bioactivity. This study examined the in vitro and in vivo outcomes of the influence of diameter, length, purification and carboxylation (in vitro testing only) of MWCNT.Methods: Three original 'as received' MWCNT that varied in size (diameter and length) were purified and functionalized by carboxylation. The resulting MWCNT were characterized and examined for cytotoxicity and inflammasome activation in vitro using THP-1 cells and primary alveolar macrophages from C57BL/6 mice. Oropharyngeal aspiration administration was used to deliver original MWCNT and in vivo bioactivity and lung retention was examined at 1 and 7 days.Results: Studies with THP-1 macrophages demonstrated that increased length or diameter corresponded with increased bioactivity as measured by inflammasome activation. Purification had little effect on the original MWCNT, and functionalization completely eliminated bioactivity. Similar results were obtained using alveolar macrophages isolated from C57BL/6 mice. The in vivo studies demonstrated that all three original MWCNT caused similar neutrophil influx at one day, but increasing length or diameter resulted in the lavaged cells to release more inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, TNF-α, and IL-1β) ex vivo. Seven-day histology revealed that, consistent with the in vitro results, increasing width or length of MWCNT caused more severe pathology with the longest MWCNT causing the most severe inflammation. In addition, the same two larger MWCNT were retained more in the lung at 7 days.Conclusions: Taken together, the results indicated that in vitro and in vivo bioactivity of MWCNT increased with diameter and length. Purification had no significant modifying effect from the original MWCNT. Functionalization by carboxylation completely eliminated the bioactive potential of the MWCNT regardless of size in in vitro testing.

Original languageEnglish
Article number57
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 13 2013


  • Functionalization
  • Macrophage
  • NLRP3 inflammasome
  • Nanoparticles


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