Graphene-Based Nanoplatelets: A New Risk to the Respiratory System as a Consequence of Their Unusual Aerodynamic Properties

Anja Schinwald, Fiona A Murphy, Alan Jones, William MacNee, Ken Donaldson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Graphene is a new nanomaterial with unusual and useful physical and chemical properties. However, in the form of nanoplatelets this new, emerging material could pose unusual risks to the respiratory system after inhalation exposure. The graphene-based nanoplatelets used in this study are commercially available and consist of several sheets of graphene (few-layer graphene). We first derived the respirability of graphene nanoplatelets (GP) from the basic principles of the aerodynamic behavior of plate-shaped particles which allowed us to calculate their aerodynamic diameter. This showed that the nanoplatelets, which were up to 25 μm in diameter, were respirable and so would deposit beyond the ciliated airways following inhalation. We therefore utilized models of pharyngeal aspiration and direct intrapleural installation of GP, as well as an in vitro model, to assess their inflammatory potential. These large but respirable GP were inflammogenic in both the lung and the pleural space. MIP-1α, MCP-1, MIP-2, IL-8, and IL-1β expression in the BAL, the pleural lavage, and cell culture supernatant from THP-1 macrophages were increased with GP exposure compared to controls but not with nanoparticulate carbon black (CB). In vitro, macrophages exposed to GP showed expression of IL-1β. This study highlights the importance of nanoplatelet form as a driver for in vivo and in vitro inflammogenicity by virtue of their respirable aerodynamic diameter, despite a considerable 2-dimensional size which leads to frustrated phagocytosis when they deposit in the distal lungs and macrophages attempt to phagocytose them. Our data suggest that nanoplatelets pose a novel nanohazard and structure-toxicity relationship in nanoparticle toxicology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)736-746
Number of pages11
JournalACS Nano
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2012


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