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Different cellular response mechanisms contribute to the length-dependent cytotoxicity of multi-walled carbon nanotubes

Dun Liu, Lijun Wang, Zhigang Wang and Alfred Cuschieri*

Author affiliations

Institute for Medical Science and Technology (IMSaT), University of Dundee, Wilson House, 1 Wurzburg Loan, Dundee Medipark, Dundee DD2 1FD, UK

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Citation and License

Nanoscale Research Letters 2012, 7:361  doi:10.1186/1556-276X-7-361

Published: 2 July 2012


To date, there has not been an agreement on the best methods for the characterisation of multi-walled carbon nanotube (MWCNT) toxicity. The length of MWCNTs has been identified as a factor in in vitro and in vivo studies, in addition to their purity and biocompatible coating. Another unresolved issue relates to the variable toxicity of MWCNTs on different cell types. The present study addressed the effects of MWCNTs' length on mammalian immune and epithelial cancer cells RAW264.7 and MCF-7, respectively. Our data confirm that MWCNTs induce cytotoxicity in a length- and cell type-dependent manner. Whereas, longer (3 to 14 μm) MWCNTs exert high toxicity, especially to RAW264.7 cells, shorter (1.5 μm) MWCNTs are significantly less cytotoxic. These findings confirm that the degree of biocompatibility of MWCNTs is closely related to their length and that immune cells appear to be more susceptible to damage by MWCNTs. Our study also indicates that MWCNT nanotoxicity should be analysed for various components of cellular response, and cytotoxicity data should be validated by the use of more than one assay system. Results from chromogenic-based assays should be confirmed by trypan blue exclusion.

Carbon nanotube; Cytotoxicity; Length effect; Cell type