Human airway epithelial cell responses to single walled carbon nanotube exposure: Nanorope-residual body formation

Barbara J. Panessa-Warren, John B. Warren, Kim Kisslinger, Kenya Crosson, Mathew M. Maye

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This investigation examines the 'first contact responses' of in vitro human epithelial airway cells exposed to unrefined single walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) [containing metal catalyst, carbon black, amorphous carbon, graphitic shells, and SWCNTs], and refined acid/peroxide cleaned and cut SWCNTs at low and high dose exposures (0.16 ug/L and 1.60 ug/L) for 2, 3 and 3.5 hours. FTIR, X-ray compositional analysis, morphological TEM analysis and UV-Vis were used to physicochemically characterize the SWCNTs in this study. Following SWCNT exposure to human lung NCI-H292 epithelial monolayers, the airway cells were prepared for light microscopy vital staining, or fixed in glutaraldehyde for SEM/TEM imaging to determine SWCNT binding, uptake, intracellular processing and organellar/SWCNT fate within the exposure period. At 2 hr exposures to both unrefined Carbolex, and refined SWCNTs (at both high and low doses), there were no increases in lung cell necrosis compared to controls. However high dose, 3 hr exposures to unrefined Carbolex material produced severe cell damage (apical and basal plasma membrane holes, decreased mitochondria, numerous intracellular vesicles containing nanomaterial and membrane fragments) and increased cell necrosis. The refined SWCNTs exposed for 3 hr at low dose produced no increase in cell death, although high dose exposure produced significant cell death. By TEM, Acid/peroxide cleaned SWCNT 3 hr exposures at high and low doses, revealed SWCNTs attachment to cell surface mucin, and SWCNT uptake into the cells during membrane recycling. Membranes and SWCNTs were seen within cytoplasmic lamellar body-type vesicles, where vesicular contents were bio-degraded, eventually forming long SWCNT-nanoropes, which were subsequently released into the cytoplasm as clusters of attached nanoropes, as the vesicle membranes fragmented. These Nanorope-Residual Bodies did not cause damage to the surrounding organelles or cytoplasm, and seemed very stabile in the cell cytoplasm. To our knowledge this is the first time that human lung cells have been shown to very rapidly bind, incorporate, bio-degrade and re-assemble SWCNTs into nanoropes intracellularly, to form stabile Nanorope Residual bodies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1110-1121
Number of pages12
JournalNanoscience and Nanotechnology Letters
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Human Lung Epithelium
  • Nanorope-Residual Body
  • Single Walled Carbon Nanotubes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science


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