Science China Life Sciences

, Volume 61, Issue 11, pp 1333–1351 | Cite as

The impact of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) on macrophages: contribution of MWCNT characteristics

  • Yinghe Li
  • Jimin CaoEmail author


Multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) have wide application prospects but also exhibit notable biotoxicity that is tightly associated with macrophages. Macrophages simultaneously act as initiators and defenders in MWCNT-induced organ lesions, and targeting macrophages with MWCNTs may be a potential immunotherapy and oncotherapy approach. This review focuses on the impacts of MWCNTs on macrophages and further discusses the influence of MWCNT characteristics on their bioactivity. Based on existing studies, MWCNTs stimulate macrophage migration, induce secretion of various cytokines and activate inflammatory pathways in macrophages, especially NLRP3-mediated IL-1β production. This inflammatory state, together with the oxidative stress and cell membrane lesions induced by MWCNTs, contributes to decreased phagocytic ability and cell viability, which finally results in cell apoptosis and necrosis. A series of intracellular and systemic components, such as toll-like receptor, high-mobility group box 1, Rho-associated kinases, scavenger receptor and complement components, may be involved in the above-mentioned cell-MWCNT interactions. The characteristics of MWCNTs can influence their bioactivity in macrophages both mechanically and chemically. The size (length and/or diameter), functionalization, purification and even the experimental method can affect the influence of MWCNTs on macrophages, and a better understanding of these MWCNT characteristics may benefit utilization of this nanomaterial in associated nanomedical applications.


carbon nanotube macrophage nanotoxicology nanomedicine immunity 


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This work was supported by CAMS Innovation Fund for Medical Sciences (CIFMS) (2016-I2M-3-004) and the National Key Research and Development Project from the Ministry of Science and Technology, China (2017YFA0205500).


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Copyright information

© Science China Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medicine, Chinese Academy of Medical SciencesPeking Union Medical CollegeBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Physiology, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, School of Basic MedicinePeking Union Medical CollegeBeijingChina
  3. 3.Key Laboratory of Cellular Physiology, Ministry of Education, Department of PhysiologyShanxi Medical UniversityTaiyuanChina

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