Pro-inflammatory response and genotoxicity caused by clay and graphene nanomaterials in A549 and THP-1 cells

Emilio Di Ianni, Peter Møller, Ulla Birgitte Vogel, Nicklas Raun Jacobsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Nanoclays and graphene oxide nanomaterials represent a class of materials sharing similar shapes constituted of high aspect ratio platelets. The increased production of these materials for various industrial applications increases the risk of occupational exposure, consequently with elevated risk of adverse reactions and development of pulmonary diseases, including lung cancer. In this study, pro-inflammatory responses and genotoxicity were assessed in alveolar epithelial cells (A549) and activated THP-1 macrophages (THP-1a) after exposure to three nanoclays; a pristine (Bentonite) and two surface modified (benzalkonium chloride-coated Nanofil9, and dialkyldimethyl-ammonium-coated NanofilSE3000); graphene oxide (GO) and reduced graphene oxide (r-GO) nanomaterials. The pro-inflammatory response in terms of IL-8 expression was strongest in cells exposed to Bentonite, whereas surface modification resulted in decreased toxicity in both cell lines when exposed to Nanofil9 and NanofilSE3000. GO and r-GO induced a pro-inflammatory response in A549 cells, while no effect was detected with the two nanomaterials on THP-1a cells. The pro-inflammatory response was strongly correlated with in vivo inflammation in mice after intra-tracheal instillation when doses were normalized against surface area. Genotoxicity was assessed as DNA strand breaks, using the alkaline comet assay. In A549 cells, an increase in DNA strand breaks was detected only in cells exposed to Bentonite, whereas Bentonite, NanofilSE3000 and GO caused an increased level of genotoxicity in THP-1a cells. Genotoxicity in THP-1a cells was concordant with the DNA damage in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid cells following 1 and 3 days after intra-tracheal instillation in mice. In conclusion, this study shows that surface modification of pristine nanoclays reduces the inflammatory and genotoxic response in A549 and THP-1a cells, and these in vitro models show comparable toxicity to what seen in previous mouse studies with the same materials.
Original languageEnglish
Article number503405
JournalMutation Research - Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Organo-modified
  • Occupational health
  • In vitro alternative
  • Risk assessment
  • Respiratory toxicology


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