Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are receiving considerable attention in site-specific drug and nucleic acid delivery, photodynamic therapy, and photoacoustic molecular imaging. Despite these advances, nanotubes may activate the complement system (an integral part of innate immunity), which can induce clinically significant anaphylaxis. We demonstrate that single-walled CNTs coated with human serum albumin activate the complement system through C1q-mediated classical and the alternative pathways. Surface coating with methoxypoly(ethylene glycol)-based amphiphiles, which confers solubility and prolongs circulation profiles of CNTs, activates the complement system differently, depending on the amphiphile structure. CNTs with linear poly(ethylene glycol) amphiphiles trigger the lectin pathway of the complement through both l-ficolin and mannan-binding lectin recognition. The lectin pathway activation, however, did not trigger the amplification loop of the alternative pathway. An amphiphile with branched poly(ethylene glycol) architecture also activated the lectin pathway but only through l-ficolin recognition. Importantly, this mode of activation neither generated anaphylatoxins nor induced triggering of the effector arm of the complement system. These observations provide a major step toward nanomaterial surface modification with polymers that have the properties to significantly improve innate immunocompatibility by limiting the formation of complement C3 and C5 convertases.
- Carbon Nanotubes
- Complement System
- Methoxy(polyethylene glycol)-phospholipid
- Poly(maleic anhydride-alt-1-octadecene)