Predicting pulmonary fibrosis in humans after exposure to multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs)

Arch Toxicol. 2016 Jul;90(7):1605-22. doi: 10.1007/s00204-016-1742-7. Epub 2016 May 23.


The increased production and use of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) in a diverse array of consumer, medical, and industrial applications have raised concerns about potential human exposure to these materials in the workplace and ambient environments. Inhalation is a primary route of exposure to MWCNTs, and the existing data indicate that they are potentially hazardous to human health. While a 90-day rodent inhalation test (e.g., OECD Test No. 413: subchronic inhalation toxicity: 90-day study or EPA Health Effects Test Guidelines OPPTS 870.3465 90-day inhalation toxicity) is recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics for MWCNTs (and other CNTs) if they are to be commercially produced (Godwin et al. in ACS Nano 9:3409-3417, 2015), this test is time and cost-intensive and subject to scientific and ethical concerns. As a result, there has been much interest in transitioning away from studies on animals and moving toward human-based in vitro and in silico models. However, given the multiple mechanisms of toxicity associated with subchronic exposure to inhaled MWCNTs, a battery of non-animal tests will likely be needed to evaluate the key endpoints assessed by the 90-day rodent study. Pulmonary fibrosis is an important adverse outcome related to inhalation exposure to MWCNTs and one that the non-animal approach should be able to assess. This review summarizes the state-of-the-science regarding in vivo and in vitro toxicological methods for predicting MWCNT-induced pulmonary fibrosis.

Keywords: Human lung cells; In vitro; MWCNTs; Multi-walled carbon nanotubes; Pro-fibrotic markers; Pulmonary fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / chemistry
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis
  • Nanotubes, Carbon / chemistry
  • Nanotubes, Carbon / toxicity*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / chemically induced*
  • Surface Properties
  • Toxicity Tests / methods*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Nanotubes, Carbon