The contributions of metal impurities and tube structure to the toxicity of carbon nanotube materials

Cuicui Ge, Yang Li, Jun Jie Yin, Ying Liu, Liming Wang, Yuliang Zhao, Chunying Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Due to the existence of considerable quantities of metallic and carbonaceous impurities, the key factor and mechanism for the reported toxicity of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are unclear. Here, we first quantify the contribution of metal residues and fiber structure to the toxicity of CNTs. Significant quantities of metal particles could be mobilized from CNTs into surrounding fluids, depending on the properties and constituents of the biological microenvironment, as well as the properties of metal particles. Furthermore, electron spin resonance measurements confirm that hydroxyl radicals can be generated by both CNTs containing metal impurities and acid-leachable metals from CNTs. Several biomolecules facilitate the generation of free radicals, which might be due to the participation of these biomolecules in redox cycling influenced by pH. Among several major metal residues, Fe has a critical role in generating hydroxyl radicals, reducing cell viability and promoting intracellular reactive oxidative species. Cell viability is highly dependent on the amount of metal residues and iron in particular, but not tube structure, while the negative effect of CNTs themselves on cell viability is very limited in a certain concentration range below 80μgml -1. It is crucial to systematically understand how these exogenous and endogenous factors influence the toxicity of CNTs to avoid their undesirable toxicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere32
JournalNPG Asia Materials
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • biological microenvironments
  • carbon nanotube
  • metal impurities
  • reactive oxygen species
  • toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Modeling and Simulation


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