The role of nanotoxicology in realizing the ‘helping without harm’ paradigm of nanomedicine: lessons from studies of pulmonary effects of single-walled carbon nanotubes


Anna A. Shvedova PhD, Dr. Sc, FATS, Health Effects Laboratory Division, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1095 Willowdale Road, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA.
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Nano-sized materials and nano-scaled processes are widely used in many industries. They are being actively introduced as diagnostic and therapeutic in biomedicine and they are found in numerous consumer products. The small size of nanoparticles, comparable with molecular machinery of cells, may affect normal physiological functions of cells and cause cytotoxicity. Their toxic potential cannot be extrapolated from studies of larger particles due to unique physicochemical properties of nanomaterials. Therefore, the use of nanomaterials may pose unknown risks to human health and the environment. This review discusses several important issues relevant to pulmonary toxicity of nanoparticles, especially single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNT), their direct cytotoxic effects, their ability to cause an inflammatory response, and induce oxidative stress upon pharyngeal aspiration or inhalation. Further, recognition and engulfment of nanotubes by macrophages as they relate to phagocytosis and bio-distribution of nanotubes in tissues and circulation are discussed. The immunosuppressive effects of CNT and their significance in increased sensitivity of exposed individuals to microbial infections are summarized. Finally, data on biodegradation of SWCNT by oxidative enzymes of inflammatory cells are presented in lieu of their persistence and distribution in the body.