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Toxicol Sci. 2006 Jul;92(1):5-22. Epub 2006 Feb 16.

Carbon nanotubes: a review of their properties in relation to pulmonary toxicology and workplace safety.

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  • 1MRC/University of Edinburgh Centre for Inflammation Research, ELEGI Colt Laboratory, Queen's Medical Research Institute, 47 Little France Crescent, Edinburgh EH16 4TJ, United Kingdom.


Carbon nanotubes (CNT) are an important new class of technological materials that have numerous novel and useful properties. The forecast increase in manufacture makes it likely that increasing human exposure will occur, and as a result, CNT are beginning to come under toxicological scrutiny. This review seeks to set out the toxicological paradigms applicable to the toxicity of inhaled CNT, building on the toxicological database on nanoparticles (NP) and fibers. Relevant workplace regulation regarding exposure is also considered in the light of our knowledge of CNT. CNT could have features of both NP and conventional fibers, and so the current paradigm for fiber toxicology, which is based on mineral fibers and synthetic vitreous fibers, is discussed. The NP toxicology paradigm is also discussed in relation to CNT. The available peer-reviewed literature suggests that CNT may have unusual toxicity properties. In particular, CNT seem to have a special ability to stimulate mesenchymal cell growth and to cause granuloma formation and fibrogenesis. In several studies, CNT have more adverse effects than the same mass of NP carbon and quartz, the latter a commonly used benchmark of particle toxicity. There is, however, no definitive inhalation study available that would avoid the potential for artifactual effects due to large mats and aggregates forming during instillation exposure procedures. Studies also show that CNT may exhibit some of their effects through oxidative stress and inflammation. CNT represent a group of particles that are growing in production and use, and therefore, research into their toxicology and safe use is warranted.

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