Background: Titanium dioxide (TiO 2) nanomaterials have considerable beneficial uses as photocatalysts and solar cells. It has been established for many years that pigment-grade TiO 2 (200 nm sphere) is relatively inert when internalized into a biological model system (in vivo or in vitro). For this reason, TiO 2 nanomaterials are considered an attractive alternative in applications where biological exposures will occur. Unfortunately, metal oxides on the nanoscale (one dimension < 100 nm) may or may not exhibit the same toxic potential as the original material. A further complicating issue is the effect of modifying or engineering of the nanomaterial to be structurally and geometrically different from the original material.Results: TiO 2 nanospheres, short (< 5 μm) and long (> 15 μm) nanobelts were synthesized, characterized and tested for biological activity using primary murine alveolar macrophages and in vivo in mice. This study demonstrates that alteration of anatase TiO 2 nanomaterial into a fibre structure of greater than 15 μm creates a highly toxic particle and initiates an inflammatory response by alveolar macrophages. These fibre-shaped nanomaterials induced inflammasome activation and release of inflammatory cytokines through a cathepsin B-mediated mechanism. Consequently, long TiO 2 nanobelts interact with lung macrophages in a manner very similar to asbestos or silica.Conclusions: These observations suggest that any modification of a nanomaterial, resulting in a wire, fibre, belt or tube, be tested for pathogenic potential. As this study demonstrates, toxicity and pathogenic potential change dramatically as the shape of the material is altered into one that a phagocytic cell has difficulty processing, resulting in lysosomal disruption.