Modulation of Apoptotic Pathways of Macrophages by Surface-Functionalized Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes

>Biomedical applications of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) often involve improving their hydrophilicity and dispersion in biological media by modifying them through noncovalent or covalent functionalization. However, the potential adverse effects of surface-functionalized CNTs have not been well characterized. In this study, we functionalized multi-walled CNTs (MWCNTs) via carboxylation, to produce MWCNTs-COOH, and via poly (ethylene glycol) linking, to produce MWCNTs-PEG. We used these functionalized MWCNTs to study the effect of surface functionalization on MWCNTs-induced toxicity to macrophages, and elucidate the underlying mechanisms of action. Our results revealed that MWCNTs-PEG were less cytotoxic and were associated with less apoptotic cell death of macrophages than MWCNTs-COOH. Additionally, MWCNTs-PEG induced less generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) involving less activation of NADPH oxidase compared with MWCNTs-COOH, as evidenced by membrane translocation of p47phox and p67phox in macrophages. The less cytotoxic and apoptotic effect of MWCNTs-PEG compared with MWCNTs-COOH resulted from the lower cellular uptake of MWCNTs-PEG, which resulted in less activation of oxidative stress-responsive pathways, such as p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) and nuclear factor (NF)-κB. These results demonstrate that surface functionalization of CNTs may alter ROS-mediated cytotoxic and apoptotic response by modulating apoptotic signaling pathways. Our study thus provides new insights into the molecular basis for the surface properties affecting CNTs toxicity.

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