Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are of great interest for the development of drugs and vaccines due to their unique physicochemical properties. The high surface area to volume ratio and delocalized pi-electron cloud of CNTs promote binding of proteins to the surface forming a protein corona. This unique feature of CNTs has been recognized for potential delivery of antigens for strong and long-lasting antigen-specific immune responses. Based on an earlier study that demonstrated increased protein binding, we propose that carboxylated multiwalled CNTs (MWCNTs) can function as an improved carrier to deliver antigens such as ovalbumin (OVA). To test this hypothesis, we coated carboxylated MWCNTs with OVA and measured uptake and activation of antigen-presenting cells (macrophages) and their ability to stimulate CD4(+) T-cell proliferation. We employed two types of carboxylated MWCNTs with different surface areas and defects (MWCNT-2 and MWCNT-30). MWCNT-2 and MWCNT-30 have surface areas of ~215 m(2)/g and 94 m(2)/g, respectively. The ratios of D- to G-band areas (I D/I G) were 0.97 and 1.37 for MWCNT-2 and MWCNT-30, respectively, samples showing that MWCNT-30 contained more defects. The increase in defects in MWCNT-30 led to increased binding of OVA as compared to MWCNT-2 (1,066±182 μg/mL vs 582±41 μg/mL, respectively). Both types of MWCNTs, along with MWCNT-OVA complexes, showed no observable toxicity to bone-marrow-derived macrophages up to 5 days. Surprisingly, we found that MWCNT-OVA complex significantly increased the expression of major histocompatibility complex class II on macrophages and production of pro-inflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-α and interleukin 6), while MWCNTs without OVA protein corona did not. The coculture of MWCNT-OVA-complex-treated macrophages and OVA-specific CD4(+) T-cells isolated from OT-II mice demonstrated robust proliferation of CD4(+) T-cells. This study provides strong evidence for a role for defects in carboxylated MWCNTs and their use in the efficient delivery of antigens for the development of next-generation vaccines.
Keywords: MWCNT; antigen presentation; carboxylation; defect; immune response; nanoparticle; protein corona.