Date: 17 May 2013

Maturation and demise of human primary monocytes by carbon nanotubes

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Abstract

The possibility of exploiting carbon nanotubes (CNT) in biomedical practices requires thorough analysis of the chemical or bulk effects they may exert on the immune system, the complex network that recognizes and eliminates foreign particles. In particular, the phagocytosing ability of cells belonging to the monocyte/macrophage lineage may render these immune cells an ideal toxicological target of pristine CNT, which may form aggregates of size exceeding monocyte/macrophage phagocytosing plasticity. To shed light on this issue, we analyzed the effects that pristine multi-walled CNT (MWCNT) without metal or biological impurities exert on survival and activation of freshly explanted human peripheral blood monocytes, analyzing in parallel the non-phagocytosing lymphocytes, and using graphite as control carbon material. MWCNT (diameter 10–50 nm, length up to 10 μm) exert two different toxic effects on mononuclear leukocytes: a minor apoptogenic effect (on lymphocytes > monocytes), and a major, apoptosis-independent effect that exclusively and deeply affect monocyte homeostasis. Analysis of monocyte number, adhesion, redox equilibrium, and the differentiation markers CD14 and CD11b reveals that MWCNT cause the selective disappearance of phagocytosis-competent monocytes by mechanisms related to the presence of large nanoparticle aggregates, suggesting phenomena of bulk toxicity possibly consisting of frustrated phagocytosis. At the same time, MWCNT stimulate adhesion of the phagocytosis-incompetent monocytes, and their differentiation toward a peculiar maturation asset. These observations point out novel mechanisms of CNT toxicity, renewing concerns that they may impair the innate immune system deranging the inflammatory responses.