Adverse effects of industrial multiwalled carbon nanotubes on human pulmonary cells

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2009;72(2):60-73. doi: 10.1080/15287390802476991.


The aim of this study was to evaluate adverse effects of multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT), produced for industrial purposes, on the human epithelial cell line A549. MWCNT were dispersed in dipalmitoyl lecithin (DPL), a component of pulmonary surfactant, and the effects of dispersion in DPL were compared to those in two other media: ethanol (EtOH) and phosphate-buffered saline (PBS). Effects of MWCNT were also compared to those of two asbestos fibers (chrysotile and crocidolite) and carbon black (CB) nanoparticles, not only in A549 cells but also in mesothelial cells (MeT5A human cell line), used as an asbestos-sensitive cell type. MWCNT formed agglomerates on top of both cell lines (surface area 15-35 microm(2)) that were significantly larger and more numerous in PBS than in EtOH and DPL. Whatever the dispersion media, incubation with 100 microg/ml MWCNT induced a similar decrease in metabolic activity without changing cell membrane permeability or apoptosis. Neither MWCNT cellular internalization nor oxidative stress was observed. In contrast, asbestos fibers penetrated into the cells, decreased metabolic activity but not cell membrane permeability, and increased apoptosis, without decreasing cell number. CB was internalized without any adverse effects. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that MWCNT produced for industrial purposes exert adverse effects without being internalized by human epithelial and mesothelial pulmonary cell lines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 1,2-Dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine
  • Apoptosis
  • Asbestos, Crocidolite / toxicity
  • Asbestos, Serpentine / toxicity
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Epithelial Cells / drug effects*
  • Ethanol
  • Humans
  • Nanotubes, Carbon / toxicity*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Phosphates
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / cytology
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / drug effects*
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Soot / toxicity


  • Asbestos, Serpentine
  • Nanotubes, Carbon
  • Phosphates
  • Soot
  • Asbestos, Crocidolite
  • 1,2-Dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine
  • Ethanol
  • Sodium Chloride