In the present study, we investigated the immunomodulatory activity of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from healthy donors and mite-allergic subjects. Freshly prepared PBMCs, stimulated or not with Toll-like receptor (TLR)1-9 agonists, a T cell mitogen (phytohemagglutinin A) or mite allergen extract were cultured in the presence or absence of MWCNTs. Secretion of TNF-α, IL-2, IL-5, IL-6, IL-12/23p40 or IFN-γ was quantified in the culture supernatants by ELISA. Basal secretion of all the cytokines was not altered by MWCNTs in PBMCs from both healthy donors and allergic subjects. In PBMCs from healthy donors, TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-12/23p40 secretion in response to the TLR4 agonist, lipopolysaccharide was however increased in a dose-dependent manner by MWCNTs. Significant increases in the release of these cytokines were also observed in PBMCs stimulated with a TLR2 or TLR3 agonist. MWCNTs also increased the release of IL-2 and IFN-γ by PBMCs stimulated with a T cell mitogen. In contrast, MWCNTs inhibited allergen-induced IL-5 secretion by PBMCs from mite-allergic subjects. As well, MWCNTs altered the capacity of PBMC-derived monocytes to differentiate into functional dendritic cells. All together, our data suggest that according to its immune cell target, MWCNTs may either promote or suppress immune responses in humans. Further investigations are necessary to fully understand the complexity behind interactions of engineered nanoparticles with the immune system.
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