Impact of carbon nanotubes and graphene on immune cells

Marco Orecchioni, Davide Bedognetti, Francesco Sgarrella, Francesco M. Marincola, Alberto Bianco, Lucia G. Delogu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


It has been recently proposed that nanomaterials, alone or in concert with their specific biomolecular conjugates, can be used to directly modulate the immune system, therefore offering a new tool for the enhancement of immune-based therapies against infectious disease and cancer. Here, we revised the publications on the impact of functionalized carbon nanotubes (f-CNTs), graphene and carbon nanohorns on immune cells. Whereas f-CNTs are the nanomaterial most widely investigated, we noticed a progressive increase of studies focusing on graphene in the last couple of years. The majority of the works (56%) have been carried out on macrophages, following by lymphocytes (30% of the studies). In the case of lymphocytes, T cells were the most investigated (22%) followed by monocytes and dendritic cells (7%), mixed cell populations (peripheral blood mononuclear cells, 6%), and B and natural killer (NK) cells (1%). Most of the studies focused on toxicity and biocompatibility, while mechanistic insights on the effect of carbon nanotubes on immune cells are generally lacking. Only very recently high-throughput gene-expression analyses have shed new lights on unrecognized effects of carbon nanomaterials on the immune system. These investigations have demonstrated that some f-CNTs can directly elicitate specific inflammatory pathways. The interaction of graphene with the immune system is still at a very early stage of investigation. This comprehensive state of the art on biocompatible f-CNTs and graphene on immune cells provides a useful compass to guide future researches on immunological applications of carbon nanomaterials in medicine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number138
JournalJournal of Translational Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 21 2014


  • Carbon nanotubes
  • Cells
  • Diagnosis
  • Graphene
  • Graphene oxide
  • Immune system
  • Nanomedicine
  • Therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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