In vitro evaluation of cytotoxicity of engineered carbon nanotubes in selected human cell lines

Xiaoke Hu, Sean Cook, Peng Wang, Huey min Hwang, Xi Liu, Quinton L. Williams

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72 Scopus citations


In this study, we used a systematic approach to study and compare the in vitro cytotoxicity of selected engineered carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to test cell lines including human skin keratinocytes, lung cells and lymphocytes. Results of fluorescein diacetate (FDA) uptake in T4 lymphocyte A3 cells indicated cytotoxicity caused by single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) at concentrations of 2, 5 and 10 ppm. At 2 ppm, the SWCNT treatment group retained 71.3% viability compared to the PBS control group. At 10 ppm, cellular viability further decreased to 56.5% of the PBS control group. In the skin keratinocyte HaCaT cells and lung MSTO-211H cells, the SWCNT did not demonstrate any cytotoxicity at concentrations of 2 and 5 ppm but slightly inhibited HaCaT cells and caused significant toxicity to MSTO-211H cells at 10 ppm. Multi-walled carbon nanotube (MWCNT) testing showed significant cytotoxicity to A3 cells in a dose-dependent manner. At 10 ppm the viability of the cells decreased to 89.1% compared to the PBS control. In MSTO-211H cells, MWCNT caused significant toxicity at concentrations of 2 ppm and higher. By comparison, HaCaT cells were inhibited significantly only at 10 ppm. Overall, the test CNTs inhibited cellular viabilities in a concentration, cell type, and CNT type-dependent pattern. The viabilities of the MWCNT-impacted cells are higher than the corresponding SWCNT groups. We speculate that on a per volume basis, the greater availability of defects and contaminants for cellular interaction may contribute to the higher cytotoxicity of SWCNT in this study. The interaction between the SWCNTs and A3 lymphocytes was also observed by scanning electron microscopy. The mechanism for causing cell death in this study was attributed to apoptosis and necrosis after physical penetration by CNTs and oxidative stress via formation of reactive oxygen species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1812-1817
Number of pages6
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number8
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cell lines
  • Cytotoxicity
  • In vitro
  • SEM


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