Inhibitory effects of multiwall carbon nanotubes with high iron impurity on viability and neuronal differentiation in cultured PC12 cells

Toxicology. 2013 Nov 8;313(1):49-58. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2012.11.011. Epub 2012 Dec 3.


The increasing use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in biomedical applications has garnered a great concern on their potential negative effects to human health. CNTs have been reported to potentially disrupt normal neuronal function and they were speculated to accumulate and cause brain damage, although a lot of distinct and exceptional properties and potential wide applications have been associated with this material in neurobiology. Fe impurities strapped inside the CNTs may be partially responsible for neurotoxicity generation. In the present study, we selected rat pheochromocytoma (PC12) cells to investigate and compare the effects of two kinds of multiwall carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) with different concentrations of Fe impurities which usually come from the massive production of CNTs by chemical vapor deposition. Exposure to Fe-high MWCNTs can reduce cell viability and increase cytoskeletal disruption of undifferentiated PC12 cells, diminish the ability to form mature neurites, and then adversely influence the neuronal dopaminergic phenotype in NGF-treated PC-12 cells. The present results highlight the critical role of iron residue in the adverse response to MWCNTs exposure in neural cells. These findings provide useful information for understanding the toxicity and safe application of carbon nanotubes.

Keywords: Differentiation; Metal impurities; Multiwall carbon nanotubes; Neuron; Neurotoxicity; PC12 cells.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / drug effects*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects*
  • Cytoskeleton / drug effects
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Iron / chemistry*
  • Nanotubes, Carbon / chemistry
  • Nanotubes, Carbon / toxicity*
  • Neurites / drug effects
  • Neurites / metabolism
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • PC12 Cells
  • Rats


  • Nanotubes, Carbon
  • Iron
  • Dopamine