We investigated the effect of large (40 nm) graphene quantum dots (GQDs) in concanavalin A (Con A; 12 mg/kg i.v.)-induced mouse hepatitis, a T cell-mediated liver injury resembling fulminant hepatitis in humans. Intravenously injected GQDs (50 mg/kg) accumulated in liver and reduced Con A-mediated liver damage, as demonstrated by histopathological analysis and a decrease in liver lipid peroxidation and serum levels of liver transaminases. The cleavage of apoptotic markers caspase-3/PARP and mRNA levels of proapoptotic mediators Puma, Noxa, Bax, Bak1, Bim, Apaf1, and p21, as well as LC3-I conversion to autophagosome-associated LC3-II and expression of autophagy-related (Atg) genes Atg4b, Atg7, Atg12, and beclin-1, were attenuated by GQDs, indicating a decrease in both apoptosis and autophagy in the liver tissue. This was associated with the reduced liver infiltration of immune cells, particularly the T cells producing proinflammatory cytokine IFN-γ, and a decrease in IFN-γ serum levels. In the spleen of GQD-exposed mice, mRNA expression of IFN-γ and its transcription factor T-bet was reduced, while that of the IL-33 ligand ST2 was increased. The hepatoprotective effect of GQDs was less pronounced in ST2-deficient mice, indicating that it might depend on ST2 upregulation. In vitro, GQDs inhibited splenocyte IFN-γ production, reduced the activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase in macrophage and T cell lines, inhibited macrophage production of the free radical nitric oxide, and reduced its cytotoxicity toward hepatocyte cell line HepG2. Therefore, GQDs alleviate immune-mediated fulminant hepatitis by interfering with T cell and macrophage activation and possibly by exerting a direct hepatoprotective effect.
Keywords: apoptosis; autophagy; graphene; hepatitis; quantum dot.