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A critical review of the biological mechanisms underlying the in vivo and in vitro toxicity of carbon nanotubes: The contribution of physico-chemical characteristics

Johnston, Helinor J.; Hutchison, Gary R.; Christensen, Frans M.; Peters, Sheona; Hankin, Steve; Aschberger, Karin; Stone, Vicki


Helinor J. Johnston

Frans M. Christensen

Sheona Peters

Steve Hankin

Karin Aschberger

Vicki Stone


This critical review of the available human health safety data, relating to carbon nanotubes (CNTs), was conducted in order to assess the risks associated with CNT exposure. Determining the toxicity related to CNT exploitation is of great relevance and importance due to the increased potential for human exposure to CNTs within occupational, environmental and consumer settings. When this information is combined with knowledge on the likely exposure levels of humans to CNTs, it will enable risk assessments to be conducted to assess the risks posed to human health. CNTs are a diverse group of materials and vary with regards to their wall number (single and multi-walled CNTs are evident), length, composition, and surface chemistry. The attributes of CNTs that were identified as being most likely to drive the observed toxicity have been considered, and include CNT length, metal content, tendency to aggregate/agglomerate and surface chemistry. Of particular importance, is the contribution of the fibre paradigm to CNT toxicity, whereby the length of CNTs appears to be critical to their toxic potential. Mechanistic processes that are critical to CNT toxicity will also be discussed, with the findings insinuating that CNTs can exert an oxidative response that stimulates inflammatory, genotoxic and cytotoxic consequences. Consequently, it may transpire that a common mechanism is responsible for driving CNT toxicity, despite the fact that CNTs are a diverse population of materials. The similarity of the structure of CNTs to that of asbestos has prompted concern surrounding the exposure of humans, and so the applicability of the fibre paradigm to CNTs will be evaluated. It is also necessary to determine the systemic availability of CNTs following exposure, to determine where potential targets of toxicity are, and to thereby direct in vitro investigations within the most appropriate target cells. CNTs are therefore a group of materials whose useful exploitable properties prompts their increased production and utilization within diverse applications, so that ensuring their safety is of vital importance.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Feb 3, 2010
Publication Date 2010-06
Deposit Date May 1, 2019
Journal Nanotoxicology
Print ISSN 1743-5390
Electronic ISSN 1743-5404
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 2
Pages 207-246
Keywords carbon nanotubes, nanotoxicology, nanoparticles, fibres
Public URL