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The mechanism of pleural inflammation by long carbon nanotubes: interaction of long fibres with macrophages stimulates them to amplify pro-inflammatory responses in mesothelial cells

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    Rights statement: © 2012 Murphy et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2012


Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are high aspect ratio nanoparticles with diameters in the nanometre range but lengths extending up to hundreds of microns. The structural similarities between CNT and asbestos have raised concern that they may pose a similar inhalation hazard. Recently CNT have been shown to elicit a length-dependent, asbestos-like inflammatory response in the pleural cavity of mice, where long fibres caused inflammation but short fibres did not. However the cellular mechanisms governing this response have yet to be elucidated. This study examined the in vitro effects of a range of CNT for their ability to stimulate the release of the acute phase cytokines; IL-1β, TNFα, IL-6 and the chemokine, IL-8 from both Met5a mesothelial cells and THP-1 macrophages. Results showed that direct exposure to CNT resulted in significant cytokine release from the macrophages but not mesothelial cells. This pro-inflammatory response was length dependent but modest and was shown to be a result of frustrated phagocytosis. Furthermore the indirect actions of the CNT were examined by treating the mesothelial cells with conditioned media from CNT-treated macrophages. This resulted in a dramatic amplification of the cytokine release from the mesothelial cells, a response which could be attenuated by inhibition of phagocytosis during the initial macrophage CNT treatments. We therefore hypothesise that long fibres elicit an inflammatory response in the pleural cavity via frustrated phagocytosis in pleural macrophages. The activated macrophages then stimulate an amplified pro-inflammatory cytokine response from the adjacent pleural mesothelial cells. This mechanism for producing a pro-inflammatory environment in the pleural space exposed to long CNT has implications for the general understanding of fibre-related pleural disease and design of safe nanofibres.

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