Hirano S, Kanno S, Furuyama A
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are emerging nanotechnology materials which are likely to be mass-produced in the near future. However, prior to mass-production, certain health-related concerns should first be addressed. For example, when inhaled, the thin-fibrous shape and the biopersistent characteristics of CNTs may cause pulmonary diseases, in a manner similar to asbestos. In the present study, mouse macrophages (J774.1) were exposed to highly-purified multi-walled CNTs (MWCNTs, 67 nm) or to UICC crocidolite in order to evaluate the toxicity of these nano-size fibers. The cytotoxicity of MWCNTs was found to be higher than that of crocidolite. The toxic effect of MWCNTs was not affected by N-acetylcysteine, an antioxidant, or buthionine sulfoximine, a glutathione synthesis inhibitor. cDNA microarray analyses suggested that the cytotoxicity of MWCNTs could not be explained satisfactorily by either an increase or decrease of gene expression, although mRNA levels of some cytokines were slightly increased by MWCNTs. Moreover, MWCNTs did not significantly activate either MAP kinases such as ERK, JNK and p38, nor common apoptosis pathways such as caspase 3 and PARP. Electron microscopic studies indicated that MWCNTs associate with the plasma membrane of macrophages and disrupt the integrity of the membrane. Several proteins were found to adsorb onto MWCNTs when MWCNT-exposed macrophages were gently lysed. One of these proteins was macrophage receptor with collagenous structure (MARCO). MARCO-transfected CHO-K1 cells associated with MWCNTs more rapidly than mock-transfected cells. These results indicate that MWCNTs probably trigger cytotoxic effects in phagocytotic cells by reacting with MARCO on the plasma membrane and rupturing the plasma membrane.