Potentiating effect of graphene nanomaterials on aromatic environmental pollutant-induced cytochrome P450 1A expression in the topminnow fish hepatoma cell line PLHC-1

Environ Toxicol. 2015 Sep;30(10):1192-204. doi: 10.1002/tox.21991. Epub 2014 Apr 5.


Graphene and its derivatives are an emerging class of carbon nanomaterial with great potential for a broad range of industrial and consumer applications. However, their increasing production and use is expected to result in release of nano-sized graphene platelets into the environment, where they may interact with chemical pollutants modifying their fate and toxic potential. The objective of this study was to assess whether graphene nanoplatelets can act as vector for aromatic environmental pollutants increasing their cellular uptake and associated hazardous effects in vitro. For this purpose, cell cultures of the topminnow fish (Poeciliopsis lucida) hepatoma cell line PLHC-1 were simultaneously (and successively) exposed to graphene nanoplatelets (graphene oxide (GO) or carboxyl graphene (CXYG)) and an aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonist (β-naphthoflavone (β-NF), benzo(k)fluoranthene (BkF) or 3,3',4,4',5,5'-hexachlorobiphenyl (PCB169)). Following exposure cytochrome P450 1A (Cyp1A) induction was assessed by measuring cyp1A mRNA expression levels using reverse transcriptase-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) and Cyp1A-dependent ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity. It was observed that pre- and co-exposure of cells to GO and CXYG nanoplatelets had a potentiating effect on β-NF, BkF, and PCB169-dependent Cyp1A induction suggesting that graphene nanoplatelets increase the effective concentration of AhR agonists by facilitating their passive diffusion into the cells by damaging the cells' plasma membrane and/or by transporting them over the plasma membrane via a Trojan horse-like mechanism. The results demonstrate the existence of combination effects between nanomaterials and environmental pollutants and stress the importance of considering these effects when evaluating their respective hazard.

Keywords: PLHC-1; carbon nanomaterial; cytochrome P450 1A; graphene oxide; in vitro; mixture toxicity; polychlorinated biphenyls; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / pathology
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1 / metabolism
  • Environmental Pollutants / chemistry
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Fish Diseases / metabolism
  • Fish Diseases / pathology
  • Fishes
  • Fluorenes / toxicity
  • Graphite / chemistry*
  • Liver Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Liver Neoplasms / pathology
  • Nanostructures / chemistry
  • Nanostructures / toxicity*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / agonists
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / genetics
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism*
  • beta-Naphthoflavone / toxicity


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fluorenes
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • beta-Naphthoflavone
  • Graphite
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP1A1
  • 3,4,5,3',4',5'-hexachlorobiphenyl
  • benzo(k)fluoranthene