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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e22032. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022032. Epub 2011 Jul 19.

Cytotoxic effect of poly-dispersed single walled carbon nanotubes on erythrocytes in vitro and in vivo.

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  • 1School of Life Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.


Single wall Carbon Nanotubes (SWCNTs) are hydrophobic and do not disperse in aqueous solvents. Acid functionalization of SWCNTs results in attachment of carboxy and sulfonate groups to carbon atoms and the resulting acid functionalized product (AF-SWCNTs) is negatively charged and disperses easily in water and buffers. In the present study, effect of AF-SWCNTs on blood erythrocytes was examined. Incubation of mouse erythrocytes with AF-SWCNTs and not with control SWCNTs, resulted in a dose and time dependent lysis of erythrocyte. Using fluorescence tagged AF-SWCNTs, binding of AF-SWCNTs with erythrocytes could be demonstrated. Confocal microscopy results indicated that AF-SWCNTs could enter the erythrocytes. Treatment with AF-SWCNTs resulted in exposure of hydrophobic patches on erythrocyte membrane that is indicative of membrane damage. A time and dose dependent increase in externalization of phosphatidylserine on erythrocyte membrane bilayer was also found. Administration of AF-SWCNTs through intravenous route resulted in a transient anemia as seen by a sharp decline in blood erythrocyte count accompanied with a significant drop in blood haemoglobin level. Administration of AF-SWCNTs through intratracheal administration also showed significant decline in RBC count while administration through other routes (gavage and intra-peritoneal) was not effective. By using a recently developed technique of a two step in vivo biotinylation of erythrocytes that enables simultaneous enumeration of young (age <10 days) and old (age>40 days) erythrocytes in mouse blood, it was found that the in vivo toxic effect of AF-SWCNTs was more pronounced on older subpopulation of erythrocytes. Subpopulation of old erythrocytes fell after treatment with AF-SWCNTs but recovered by third day after the intravenous administration of AF-SWCNTs. Taken together our results indicate that treatment with AF-SWCNTs results in acute membrane damage and eventual lysis of erythrocytes. Intravenous administration of AF-SWCNTs resulted in a transient anemia in which older erythrocytes are preferably lysed.

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