Cellular uptake mechanisms of functionalised multi-walled carbon nanotubes by 3D electron tomography imaging.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Khuloud T. Al-Jamal
  • Hannah Nerl
  • Karin H. Müller
  • Hanene Ali-Boucetta
  • Shouping Li
  • Peter D. Haynes
  • Joerg R. Jinschek
  • Maurizio Prato
  • Alberto Bianco
  • Alexandra E. Porter


Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are being investigated for a variety of biomedical applications. Despite numerous studies, the pathways by which carbon nanotubes enter cells and their subsequent intracellular trafficking and distribution remain poorly determined. Here, we use 3-D electron tomography techniques that offer optimum enhancement of contrast between carbon nanotubes and the plasma membrane to investigate the mechanisms involved in the cellular uptake of shortened, functionalised multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWNT-NH(3)(+)). Both human lung epithelial (A549) cells, that are almost incapable of phagocytosis and primary macrophages, capable of extremely efficient phagocytosis, were used. We observed that MWNT-NH(3)(+) were internalised in both phagocytic and non-phagocytic cells by any one of three mechanisms: (a) individually via membrane wrapping; (b) individually by direct membrane translocation; and (c) in clusters within vesicular compartments. At early time points following intracellular translocation, we noticed accumulation of nanotube material within various intracellular compartments, while a long-term (14-day) study using primary human macrophages revealed that MWNT-NH(3)(+) were able to escape vesicular (phagosome) entrapment by translocating directly into the cytoplasm.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2627-2635
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011