Analysis of the Cytotoxicity of Carbon-Based Nanoparticles, Diamond and Graphite, in Human Glioblastoma and Hepatoma Cell Lines
Analysis of the Cytotoxicity of Carbon-Based Nanoparticles, Diamond and Graphite, in Human Glioblastoma and Hepatoma Cell Lines
Data Availability Statement: All relevant data are within the paper. 0 1 2
Karolina Ewa Zakrzewska 0 1 2
Anna Samluk 0 1 2
Mateusz Wierzbicki 0 1 2
Sawomir Jaworski 0 1 2
Marta Kutwin 0 1 2
Ewa Sawosz 0 1 2
Andr Chwalibog 0 1 2
Dorota Genowefa Pijanowska 0 1 2
Krzysztof Dariusz Pluta 0 1 2
0 1 Department of Hybrid Microbiosystem Engineering, Nalecz Institute of Biocybernetics and Biomedical Engineering PAS , Warsaw , Poland , 2 Division of Nanobiotechnology, Faculty of Animal Science, Warsaw University of Life Sciences , Warsaw , Poland , 3 Department of Veterinary Clinical and Animal Sciences, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen , Copenhagen , Denmark
1 Funding: Funding provided by National Science Centre Poland NCN 2011/03/N/NZ9/04290, http:// www.ncn.gov.pl MW; European Regional Development Found within the POIG Programme: MNS-DIAG Micro- and Nano- Systems for Chemistry and Biomedical Diagnostics (POIG. 01.03.01-00-014/ 08-02), www.projekty.poig.gov.pl DGP. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript
2 Academic Editor: Gianfranco Pintus, University of Sassari , ITALY
Nanoparticles have attracted a great deal of attention as carriers for drug delivery to cancer cells. However, reports on their potential cytotoxicity raise questions of their safety and this matter needs attentive consideration. In this paper, for the first time, the cytotoxic effects of two carbon based nanoparticles, diamond and graphite, on glioblastoma and hepatoma cells were compared. First, we confirmed previous results that diamond nanoparticles are practically nontoxic. Second, graphite nanoparticles exhibited a negative impact on glioblastoma, but not on hepatoma cells. The studied carbon nanoparticles could be a potentially useful tool for therapeutics delivery to the brain tissue with minimal side effects on the hepatocytes. Furthermore, we showed the influence of the nanoparticles on the stable, fluorescently labeled tumor cell lines and concluded that the labeled cells are suitable for drug cytotoxicity tests.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared
that no competing interests exist.
inflammatory cytokines and does not affect the morphology of cells at concentrations ranging
from 1 to 100 g/mL . In contrast, the biological activity of graphite NPs (nanographite,
NG) is poorly understood. There are only a few published reports on this subject, suggesting
that NG is capable of inducing apoptosis and cell death or inflammatory responses in rats ,
or could inhibit angiogenesis . Despite the similarity, in terms of having a crystalline form
and nanoscale size, ND and NG have different C-atoms hybridization (sp3 and sp2,
respectively) and, thus, exhibit distinct physical and electrochemical properties. This could explain their
differential effects exerted on human cells.
According to the World Health Organization cancers are among the leading causes of death
throughout the world, and liver cancer is the second most frequent cause of cancer-related
death . Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is a primary malignancy of the liver. HCC cells
produce proteins at high levels and, thus, they are characterized by high oxygen and glucose
consumption . Prognosis for this type of cancer is very poor, because the survival rate of
patients with HCC has not been improved significantly in the last two decades [8,9]. The only
effective treatment for HCC is surgery (partial resection or transplantation), but only a small
percentage of patients are candidates for this procedure, owing to complications associated
with the tumor metastasis. Conventional therapy based on chemo- and radiotherapy is toxic to
hepatocytes . Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most common and most aggressive
malignant brain tumor. GBM cells are characterized by low mitochondrial respiration,
increased glycolysis for ATP generation and hypoxia preference . They are resistant to the
traditional therapy and, additionally, the blood-brain barrier limits the penetration of drugs to
the tumor site. New strategies developed for cancer treatment are based on substances causing
programmed cell death. However, targeted chemotherapeutic agents also have an impact on
healthy cells [12,13]. Owing to the problems caused by the blood-brain barrier and to the
difficult access to glioblastoma growing along the vasculature and nerves, studies are focusing on
targeted therapy, which should not be toxic to the other cells, especially hepatocytes. One of
the most promising methods is the use of NPs as carriers for anti-tumor agents.
The aim of this study was to evaluate the potential toxicity of ND and NG in glioblastoma
(U87) and hepatoma (C3A) cells. Fluorescent labeling has been widely used in many biological
applications, such as in the detection of cellular components (e.g. mitochondria), visualization
of protein-protein interactions or in vivo cell tracking. Therefore, for the purpose of these
experiments, EGFP (enhanced green fluorescent protein)-expressing U87 and C3A cells
generated according to a method described elsewhere , were used. The experiments with the stable
fluorescent cell lines (U87-EGFP and C3A-EGFP) were performed in order to compare the
performance of the nontransduced and transduced cells as preliminary studies for future in
vivo experiments. EGFP-labeling could potentially be toxic to human cells , but our data
did not confirm this hypothesis because of the following results: unchanged albumin
production and viability of the C3A-EGFP cells .
The Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Poland has granted our Laboratory the
approval for research on human cell lines modified by lentiviral vectors for use in closed systems
(Decision No. 30/2011).
Carbonbased NPs, ND (explosion synthesized; specific surface area: ~282 m2/g; purity: >95%)
and NG (explosion synthesized; specific surface area: 540650 m2/g; purity: >93%), were
Fig 1. Transmission electron microscopy images of nanoparticles. Images of (A) diamond (ND) and (B) graphite (NG) nanoparticles. Scale bar: 100 nm.
obtained from Sky Spring Nanomaterials Inc. (Huston, USA). ND and NG powders were
dispersed in ultrapure water by sonication to prepare 1.0 mg/mL solutions. Afterwards, the
solutions were diluted to different concentrations with cell culture medium immediately prior to cell
exposure. The dispersion, shape and size of the NPs were examined using a transmission
electron microscope (TEM, JEM-2000EX) at an accelerating voltage of 80 kV (JEOL, Tokyo, Japan).
Representative TEM images of ND and NG, taken in aqueous solutions at a concentration of 1.0
mg/mL, are presented in Fig 1. As can be seen, NG, but not ND, formed tightly aggregated
clusters. The typical diameter of both ND and NG spherical particles ranged from 26 nm. The zeta
potentials and polydispersity index (PDI) of NPs were measured in colloidal solutions at
concentration of 50 g/mL by the laser dynamic scattering-electrophoretic method, using a
Zetasizer Nano ZS, model ZEN3500 (Malvern Instruments, UK). Each sample was measured
following stabilization for 120 s at 25C. The zeta potential measurements were conducted using
the Smoluchowski approximation. Observed zeta potentials for ND and NG were 35.6 mV
and 31.4 mV, respectively. PDI values for ND and NG were 0.29 and 0.41, respectively.
Human glioblastoma U87 (ATCC No. HTB-14) and hepatoma C3A (ATCC No. CRL-10741)
cell lines, as well as their fluorescently labeled derivatives, were cultured under standard
conditions at 37C in a humidified atmosphere of 5% CO2/95% air in an AutoFlow NU-4750E
Water Jacket CO2 Incubator (NuAire, Plymouth, MN, USA). U87 cells were cultured in low
glucose Dulbeccos Modified Eagle Medium (DMEM) supplemented with 10% fetal bovine
serum (FBS), whereas C3A cells were grown in high glucose DMEM supplemented with 10%
FBS and 1% nonessential amino acids.
In order to generate labeled cell lines, both U87 and C3A cells were transduced with lentiviral
vectors that enabled the stable expression of the EGFP fluorescent marker. A full description of
this genetic modification has been published elsewhere . The resulting fluorescent cell lines
(transduced cells): U87-EGFP and C3A-EGFP, displayed strong and uniform fluorescence
emissions in a high percentage of cells, that is 9095% as judged by flow cytometry
(fluorescence-activated cell sorting, FACS) using a FACSCanto II instrument (BD, Warsaw, Poland).
U87 and U87-EGFP cells were plated in 96-well microplates (1104 cells per well) and
incubated for 18 h. C3A and C3A-EGFP cells were plated in 96-well microplates (3104 cells per well)
and incubated for 24 h. The numbers of cells that allowed optimum growth over the entire
incubation period were determined for every cell line in the pilot experiments. All cells were
subsequently incubated with ND and NG at concentrations of 20, 50 and 100 g/mL. Cells
cultured in medium without the addition of any NPs were used as a control. Images showing
the cell morphology were captured using an inverted fluorescence microscope (Olympus IX71)
and analyzed with CellP software (Olympus, Warsaw, Poland) 2 and 24 h after exposure.
Cell viability (ICV) was assessed using a 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium
bromide reagent (MTT test). U87, U87-EGFP, C3A and C3A-EGFP cells were plated in
96-well microplates (1104 per well for glioblastoma cells and 3104 for hepatoma cells) and
incubated for 18 or 24 h, respectively. Next, both types of cells were incubated for 2 or 24 h
with ND and NG at concentrations of 20, 50 and 100 g/mL. After removing the medium, the
cells were incubated with 50 L of the MTT solution at 37C for 3 h. Next, the optical density
(OD) of each well was recorded at 570 nm with a microplate reader (Synergy HT) and analyzed
using KC-4 software (BioTek, Winooski, VT, USA). The ICV values were expressed as ratios of
the relative optical density for the tested samples (ODtestODblank) to relative optical density
for the control sample (ODcontrol ODblank), both relative values were calculated versus the
optical density for blank, Equation (1):
where ODtest is the optical density of cells exposed to ND or NG, ODcontrol is the optical density
of the control sample and ODblank is the optical density of the wells without glioblastoma or
The cells status, expressed as Cell Index (CI) corresponding to cell number, the morphology
and their adherence, was monitored using a real-time xCELLigence RTCA SP cell analyzer
(ACEA Biosciences, Inc., San Diego, CA, USA) based on an electronic cell sensor, which
measures changes in the electrical properties of cellgrowth surface interactions. U87, U87-EGFP,
C3A and C3A-EGFP cells were plated in an RTCA SP 96-well microplate (1104 U87 cells per
well and 3104 C3A cells per well) and left at room temperature for 30 min to allow cell
attachment. Then, the plates were transferred into the RTCA SP instrument and incubated for 5
(U87 and U87-EGFP) or 18 h (C3A and C3A-EGFP). The cell numbers that allowed optimum
growth over the entire incubation period were determined for every cell line in the pilot
experiments. Next, both types of cells were incubated in culture medium containing ND and NG at
concentrations of 20, 50 and 100 g/mL. Cells cultured in a medium without the addition of
ND and NG were used as a control. The background CI measured in the medium containing
only NPs was at level 0. The CI was monitored for 2 h with a sampling time of 1 min. RTCA
software (ACEA) was used for data acquisition and analysis.
Cell proliferation was evaluated using a Cell Proliferation ELISA BrdU kit (Roche Diagnostics
GmbH, Germany). U87, U87-EGFP, C3A and C3A-EGFP cells were plated in a 96-well
microplate (5103 U87 cells per well and 3104 C3A cells per well) and incubated for 24 h. Then, the
medium was removed and the cells were incubated with ND and NG at concentrations of 20,
50 and 100 g/mL. A BrdU reagent was added to each well and incubated for a further 4 h.
Further steps were performed according to the Roche Diagnostics protocol. The absorbance was
measured at 450 nm using a microplate reader (Infinite M200, Tecan, Durham, NC, USA).
Cell proliferation (ICP) was expressed as a ratio of relative optical density for tested samples
(ODtestODblank) to relative optical density for the control sample (ODcontrolODblank), both
relative values were calculated versus the optical density for the blank, Equation (2):
The concentration of human serum albumin secreted by the C3A and C3A-EGFP cells was
measured using a sandwich enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) with a quantitation
kit (Bethyl Laboratories, Inc., Montgomery, TX, USA) and a microplate reader (Synergy HT,
BioTek). C3A and C3A-EGFP cells were plated in 96-well plates (3104 cells per well) and
incubated for 24 h. Then, the cells were further incubated for 24 h with ND and NG at
concentrations of 20, 50 and 100 g/mL. Cells cultured in a medium without the addition of ND and NG
were used as a control. The amount of albumin was expressed in nanograms per 1104 C3A
and C3A-EGFP cells.
Data were analyzed using one-way or two-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with
Statgraphics Plus 4.1 (StatPoint Technologies, Warrenton, VA, USA). A P-value that was lower
than 0.05 was considered to be statistically significant. The differences between the groups
were analyzed using Duncans multiple range test. The results are presented as the mean values
with the standard errors for each variable.
The morphology of the tumor cell lines was analyzed using an inverted fluorescence
microscope 2 and 24 h after exposure to ND and NG. Regardless of the incubation time, we did not
observe any differences in cell morphology compared to the nontreated cells. The NPs
appeared on the bright field microphotographs as black dots, aggregated inside the cells or on the
cells surface (Fig 2).
Comparison of cell viability
The viability of the tested tumor cell lines was evaluated using the MTT assay. The
glioblastoma cells treated for 2 h with NG at all concentrations showed significantly lowered metabolic
activity, by 28.3 5.9% for U87 and 19.3 6.4% for U87-EGFP when compared to the control
(Fig 3A). A significantly decreased cell viability, by 32.5 9.1% for U87 and 34.4 7.8% for
U87-EGFP, was also noticeable after 24 h of exposure to the NG-containing medium (Fig 3C).
For the hepatoma cell line, we did not observe any significant differences in metabolic
activity after either 2 or 24 h of exposure, despite the small decrease by 4.7 1.5% in C3A-EGFP
after 2 h exposure to NG at a concentration of 20 g/mL (Fig 3B; Fig 3D). Analysis of the effect
of different ND concentrations on the studied tumor cell lines, U87 and C3A, did not show any
negative impact on the cell viability after exposure for 2 or 24 h (Fig 3).
To exclude a possible negative impact of fluorescent protein expression on the metabolic
activity in the transduced cells, one-way ANOVA using Duncans test, was performed for the
control groups (nontreated cells) at two time points (2 and 24 h). We did not observe any
Fig 2. Glioblastoma and hepatoma cells morphology. U87, U87-EGFP, C3A and C3A-EGFP cells
morphology after 2 h exposure to medium containing nanoparticles at the highest concentration: graphite
100 g/mL (NG 100) and diamond 100 g/mL (ND 100), nontreated cells were used as a control (Control).
Analysis of the cells morphology was performed using an inverted fluorescence microscope. Images of the
labeled cells, U87-EGFP and C3A-EGFP, were captured using a green fluorescence filter. Scale bar:
Fig 3. MTT test analysis. U87, U87-EGFP, C3A and C3A-EGFP cells metabolic analysis was performed after 2 and 24 h of exposure to the culture medium
containing nanoparticles at different concentrations: diamond 20 g/mL (ND 20), 50 g/mL (ND 50) and 100 g/mL (ND 100), and graphite 20 g/mL (NG
20), 50 g/mL (NG 50) and 100 g/mL (NG 100); nontreated cells were used as a control (Control). Metabolic activity of cells, expressed as ICV, after 2 h of
exposure to the culture medium with the above-mentioned different concentrations of diamond and graphite nanoparticles: U87 and U87-EGFP (A), and C3A
and C3A-EGFP (B); and after 24 h of exposure to the culture medium with above-mentioned different concentrations of diamond and graphite nanoparticles:
U87 and U87-EGFP (C), and C3A and C3A-EGFP (D). Data analysis was carried out by two-way ANOVA and the differences between the groups were
tested by Duncans test. Data were averaged from three replicates (n = 3); P < 0.05. No significant interaction (nanoparticles with transduction)
statistically significant differences between the genetically modified and unlabeled cells (P>0.994
for glioblastoma cells and P>0.985 for hepatoma cells). To determine the potential impact of
fluorescent protein production on the cells, a series of experiments was performed. In general, no
significant alterations in cell morphology or physiology were observed (compare Figs 26).
Cytotoxicity of the graphite nanoparticles. Among the four groups of cells tested, only
unlabeled U87 showed a significant CI decrease (by 22.3%) after 2 h of exposure to a medium
the hepatoma cells were incubated in the culture medium with the highest concentration of
NG we observed a CI increase for both C3A and C3A-EGFP cells after 1 h (8 and 12%,
respectively) and 2 h of exposure (24 and 28%, respectively) with respect to the CI values measured
before the addition of NG (Fig 4A; Fig 4B; dark red and dark green lines, respectively).
Cytotoxicity of the diamond nanoparticles. Data from our experiments showed that ND
had a broader spectrum of activity, yet it had lower cytotoxicity in the U87 cells compared to
NG. After 1 h of exposure, we observed a statistically significant, approximate 10% decrease in
Fig 4. Glioblastoma and hepatoma cells status (CI). U87, U87-EGFP, C3A and C3A-EGFP CI monitored by a real-time cell analyzer (RTCA) after 1 and 2
h of exposure to the culture medium containing graphite and diamond nanoparticles at different concentrations: diamond 20 g/mL (ND 20), 50 g/mL (ND
50) and 100 g/mL (ND 100), and graphite 20 g/mL (NG 20), 50 g/mL (NG 50) and 100 g/mL (NG 100); nontreated cells were used as a control (NT). (A)
U87 (blue lines) and C3A cells (red lines) treated with graphite (NG) after 1 h (vertical blue marker line) and 2 h (vertical red marker line) and control (vertical
green marker line); (B) U87-EGFP cells (violet lines) and C3A-EGFP cells (green lines) treated with graphite after 1 h (vertical blue marker line) and 2 h
(vertical red marker line) and control (vertical green marker line); (C) U87 (blue lines) and C3A cells (red lines) treated with diamond (ND) after 1 h (vertical
blue marker line) and 2 h (vertical red marker line) and control (vertical green marker line); (D) U87-EGFP cells (violet lines) and C3A-EGFP cells (green
lines) treated with diamond (ND) after 1 h (vertical blue marker line) and 2 h (vertical red marker line) and control (vertical green marker line). Data analysis
was carried out by two-way ANOVA and the differences between the groups were tested by Duncans test. Data were averaged from three replicates (n = 3);
P< 0.05. No significant interaction (nanoparticles with transduction) was observed.
CI for U87 at 50 g/mL and 100 g/mL, and a 7.3% decrease at the highest concentration for
U87-EGFP cells (Fig 4C; Fig 4D; blue/dark blue and dark violet lines, respectively). When the
same cells were treated with medium containing ND for 2 h, a cytotoxic effect was only
observed in nontransduced U87 cells (Fig 4C; blue and dark blue lines).
Fig 5. BrdU incorporation test. U87, U87-EGFP, C3A and C3A-EGFP cells proliferation (expressed as ICP) analysis was performed 24 h after treatment
with the culture medium containing nanoparticles at different concentrations: diamond 20 g/mL (ND 20), 50 g/mL (ND 50) and 100 g/mL (ND 100), and
graphite 20 g/mL (NG 20), 50 g/mL (NG 50) and 100 g/mL (NG 100); nontreated cells were used as a control (Control). (A) U87 and U87-EGFP cells and
(B) C3A and C3A-EGFP cells after 24 h of exposure to the medium with different concentrations of diamond and graphite nanoparticles. Data analysis was
carried out by two-way ANOVA and the differences between the groups were tested by Duncans test. Data were averaged from three replicates (n = 3);
P< 0.05. We observed significant interactions (nanoparticles with transduction) in glioblastoma cells (P = 0.0001).
Fig 6. Human serum albumin concentration in culture medium. Albumin secreted by the C3A and C3A-EGFP cells treated for 24 h with the culture
medium containing nanoparticles at different concentrations measured by ELISA test: diamond 20 g/mL (ND 20), 50 g/mL (ND 50) and 100 g/mL (ND
100), and graphite 20 g/mL (NG 20), 50 g/mL (NG 50) and 100 g/mL (NG 100). Albumin secretion by cells after 24 h exposure to the medium with different
concentrations of diamond and graphite nanoparticles: (A) C3A cells and (B) C3A-EGFP cells. Nontreated cells were used as a control (Control). Data were
analyzed using a two-way ANOVA with the Duncans test. Data were averaged from three replicates (n = 3); P < 0.05. No significant interaction
(nanoparticles with transduction) was observed.
The impact of ND on the CI of the hepatoma cells was similar to that observed for NG. The
CI increased for C3A and C3A-EGFP after 1 h of exposure to all culture medium containing
ND at different concentrations (Fig 4C; Fig 4D; all red and all green lines, respectively).
Moreover, when C3A and C3A-EGFP cells were treated with ND for 2 h, a significant growth in the
CI was observed at all concentrations. On the other hand, the largest increase, by about 24%
for C3A and 32% for C3A-EGFP, was noticed at the highest concentration of ND (Fig 4C; Fig
4D; dark red and dark green lines, respectively).
The proliferative potential of the studied tumor cell lines was evaluated using the BrdU
incorporation test. Glioblastoma cells, both unlabeled and EGFP-positive, treated for 24 h with the
culture medium containing NG at concentrations 50 and 100 g/mL showed significantly
retarded cell proliferation, expressed as ICP, when compared to the control, by about 38% on
average (Fig 5A). For the hepatoma cell lines, we observed a significant increase in ICP after 24 h
of exposure to ND at a concentration of 50 g/mL and to medium containing NG at all
concentrations, when compared to the control, by about 31% on average (Fig 5B). Based on a one-way
ANOVA with the Duncans test, no statistically significant differences between transduced and
nontransduced cells, of both U87 and C3A, were observed.
Comparison of human serum albumin secretion
To test the liver cell function specifically, the amounts of albumin secreted by C3A and
C3A-EGFP cells treated for 24 h with the culture medium containing ND or NG at different
concentrations (20, 50 and 100 g/mL) were determined by the ELISA test. Data showed that,
when compared to the control (nontreated cells), the presence of NPs in culture medium
significantly lowered the synthesis of the protein in both types of the human hepatoma cells
(n = 3; P<0.05) (Fig 6A; Fig 6B). The cells treated with ND secreted, on average, about 34 and
17% less albumin for C3A and C3A-EGFP, respectively. In the case in which hepatoma cells
were exposed to NG, albumin secretion was lower by the same values in C3A and C3A-EGFP
cells when compared to the control.
In this study, for the first time, the potential toxicity of ND and NG in nontransduced and
EGFP-expressing glioblastoma and hepatoma cells was evaluated. Earlier reports have shown a
constant improvement in the biosafety of the nanoparticles [17,18]. It has also been
demonstrated that ND is practically nontoxic to many type of cells, such as human cervical cancer cell
line (HeLa), mouse pre-adipocyte (3T3-L1) and osteoprogenitor cell line (489-2) , as well
as human red blood cells  and neuroblastoma cells . Thus, ND could potentially be the
part of a drug-delivery system. Herein, we confirmed these observations. In contrast, despite
the similar composition of NG and ND, NG is in fact toxic to glioblastoma cells at
concentrations ranging from 20 to 100 g/mL. Interestingly, neither ND nor NG affected the
morphology or viability of hepatoma cells. It is an interesting result in terms of using C3A cells as a
model of human liver cells in this study. The drug delivery vehicles must be characterized by
high biocompatibility and low risk of liver tissue damage. Hepatocytes in the liver, owing to
their biotransformation properties, should not be exposed to any toxic xenobiotics. Moreover,
we did not observe any significant differences between the performance of both nontransduced
and EGFP-expressing U87 and C3A cell lines. Our results support the idea that stable
fluorescent cell lines can be employed in cytotoxicity tests as well as their
We did not observe any significant differences in morphology of U87 or C3A cells after 2
and 24 h of culturing in a medium with NG and ND. The NPs formed aggregates inside or
outside the cells, but did not affect their structure. The mechanism of NPs internalization by cells
is not completely understood. The main features affecting this process are as follow: NPs size,
charge, shape and type of both NPs and cells . From the present measurements, it is not
possible to conclude whether the NPs entered the cells or were agglomerated on the cell surface.
It has been suggested that NPs do not enter the cells , however, it was also demonstrated
that NPs could be absorbed into the cells either through endocytosis [26,27] or phagocytosis
[28,29]. The exemplary mechanism described by Wang et al. in 2011  was based on
endocytosis. The authors observed graphene oxide (GO) particles inside human fibroblasts (HDF),
mainly located in the cytoplasm, lysosomes, mitochondrion and endoplasm. The amounts of
GO inside the fibroblasts gradually increased during the culture period. The authors have
suggested following mechanism: GO attachment to the surface of the cells ! signal transduction
to the nucleus ! down-regulation of adhesive proteins synthesis ! detachment, floating, and
shrinking of the cells ! GO enter into the cytoplasm (endocytosis) ! disturbances in cell
energy metabolism, gene transcription and translation ! cell death. In turn, Panessa-Warren
et al.  showed that direct contact between carbon NPs and plasma membrane led to its
focal dissolution, allowing small nanoparticles to enter the cytosol and, ultimately, the nucleus.
The NPs entered the colon and lung cells on the mechanism independent of the phagocytosis
and freely traveled within cytoplasm.
Some authors have reported that carbon NPs could cause the fluorescence quenching,
however, in our case, this effect was not so clear. Wang et al.  showed that graphene
microsheets derived from chemically reduced graphitic oxide (rGO) could effectively decrease the
fluorescence intensity in the process that was linearly dependent on the concentration of rGO.
Singh et al.  compared carbon nanotubes and their capabilities as quencher agents for
different fluorophores. Their results showed that the quenching efficiency depends on both the
type of NPs and the fluorophores used, and can reach almost 100%. We could not confirm
these observations for ND or NG.
The MTT cell viability test demonstrated that NG, at concentrations from 20 to 100 g/mL,
decreased the viability of glioblastoma cells, both nontransduced and EGFP-positive, but did
not affect labeled and unlabeled hepatoma cells. There is currently little empirical evidence on
cytotoxicity of graphite nanoparticles. Graphite toxicity was not confirmed in rodent lungs after
inhalation [34,35], but in vitro experiments with some forms of graphite NPs demonstrated
differential effects or lack of toxicity depending on various factors: NPs preparation process, size,
type of cells, etc. [25,28,30,36,37]. We can speculate that in our experiments observed cytotoxic
effect of NG, when compared to ND, may result from the presence of highly reactive dangling
carbon bonds on its surface. Interestingly, also here this effect is cell-dependent. To confirm this
hypothesis a more detailed chemical and physical analysis of these NPs must be performed.
Especially, when biological activity of nanomaterials from different studies is compared, deepened
characterization of NPs chemical composition, purity, size distribution, shape and aggregation,
surface reactivity, etc. is required. Additionally, since the effects of NPs exposure depend on the
target cell type, the understanding of differences between cell membrane structure, function and
physiology must be taken into consideration in the assessment of NPs safety.
ND and NG used in our experiments have different zeta potentials. This can suggest that
NG, in opposite to ND, is positively charged. Tatur et al.  have recently shown that gold
NPs functionalized with cationic head groups, in contrast to the NPs functionalized with
anionic head groups, penetrated into the hydrophobic moiety of the lipid bilayers and caused
membrane disruption at an increased concentration. However, we do not know the real surface
charge of our NPs in culture medium. Another factor that may contribute to the NG
cytotoxicity in glioblastoma cells is an aggregation of the NPs. NG has higher PDI value than ND and its
tendency to aggregate was confirmed by the TEM images.
However, results from experiments that employed graphene to study cytotoxicity are
currently available. To some extent, the chemical properties of graphene are similar to those of graphite,
owing to the fact that, in both cases, C-atoms are sp2 hybridized. Jaworski et al.  published
their work on the influence of graphene platelets on the morphology, mortality, viability,
membrane integrity and type of cell death. Our studies on graphite partially confirmed their results in
the case of the MTT test and morphology observations of glioblastoma cells treated with
graphene. Both graphene and NG decrease the viability of glioblastoma cells and form agglomerates
on the cells surface or inside the cells. On the other hand, the metabolic activity level was not
lowered in hepatoma cells after incubation with NG. Lammel et al.  tested the cytotoxicity of
graphene oxide and carboxyl graphene NPs on hepatoma cells (HepG2). They observed
cytotoxic effects such as plasma membrane damage, cell proliferation inhibition and cell death.
Nevertheless, the total protein measurement remained unchanged. Another group worked on HepG2
and graphitic nanomaterials (graphene oxide and single-walled carbon nanotubesSWCNTs),
and concluded that graphene had only a moderate effect on the cellular functions when
compared to SWCNTs and did not induce apoptosis based on the protein profile .
Using ND at concentrations from 20 to 100 g/mL did not have any negative effect on
glioblastoma and hepatoma cells, both nontransduced and EGFP-positive. The cytotoxicity of ND
at different concentrations and in different cell types has been discussed in many published
articles. Studies of short-term exposure to medium containing ND did not show any significant
influence on neuroblastoma, macrophage, keratinocyte [3,42], or hepatoma  cells. Some
authors suggest that ND after internalization persists nonreactive inside the cell, i.e., in the
cytoplasm, and does not harm mitochondria and other organelles .
Analysis of the MTT results also revealed an interesting contrast in behavior between
nontransduced and EGFP-positive cells. After 2 h of incubation with ND and NG, U87 cells
behaved significantly differently to U87-EGFP cells. We observed a small (about 15%), yet
significant (P<0.05), increase in U87-EGFP cell viability after 2 h of ND exposure at all
concentrations. The effect had gone after 24 h. No significant interaction between transduced
and nontranduced U87 and C3A cells was observed. We are not able to explain this
EGFPprotective phenomenon and we only can hypothesize about some possible interactions between
EGFP folding and the NPs. De et al.  demonstrated protein refolding through electrostatic
interactions after the addition of gold NPs.
The CI represents the status of the cells based on changes in their electrical properties. We
analyzed the results obtained for cells cultured for 1 and 2 h after the addition of NPs. The CI in
glioblastoma cells decreased after 2 h of incubation with 100 g/mL NG and after 1 and 2 h of
incubation with 50 and 100 g/mL ND. We did not observe a CI decrease in U87-EGFP cells,
except for after 1 h incubation with 50 and 100 g/mL ND. These results confirm the data obtained
from the MTT test, whereby U87-EGFP cells were more viable than nontransduced cells. The
opposite situation was observed in hepatoma cells, when the CI increased after incubation with
the highest concentration of NG and ND in nontransduced as well as in EGFP-positive cells.
The BrdU incorporation test quantitatively measures a cells proliferative potential. The
impact of the NPs on glioblastoma and hepatoma cells was different, but consistent with MTT
and RTCA tests results. Notably, the presence of both ND and NG increased the number of
hepatoma cells in S-phase. Glioblastoma cells reacted differently to NPs, and with NG at
concentrations of 50 and 100 g/mL, the number of proliferating cells was lowered. Duan et al.
 performed a series of experiments on human endothelial cells and silica NPs, and found a
significant decrease in the S-phase population after NPs treatment. On the other hand, in their
previous report, they showed that silica NPs damaged HepG2 cells through ROS production,
but the level of cells in S-phase was higher than in the control groups .
Based on data from the MTT test, the CI values and the BrdU incorporation test, we can
conclude that NG reduced the viability, adherence and proliferation of U87 cells, but did not
affect the hepatoma cells. The only observed negative effect of ND was the adherence reduction
in glioblastoma cells. Instead, this type of carbon nanomaterial increased viability, adherence
and proliferation of hepatoma cells, which supports our hypothesis that ND fits the
requirements for the nontoxic drug carriers.
Albumin, the typical protein synthesized by hepatocytes, serves as a popular indicator of
changes in hepatoma cell physiology. A reduction in albumin production in C3A cells under
stress conditions, i.e., in the presence of the NG and ND at concentrations ranging from 20 to
100 g/mL, was more prominent in nontransduced cells than in EGFP-positive cells (ELISA
test). Bakowicz-Mitura et al.  published their study about the influence of diamond powder
on human gene expression. The authors found that, despite high biocompatibility and low
cytotoxicity, ND had a high molecular activity and could change the expression of genes
responsible for cancer. Wierzbicki et al.  confirmed that ND and NG can control gene expression.
The authors measured mRNA levels of basic Fibroblast Growth Factor (bFGH) and Vascular
Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) in heart samples following NPs exposure. The levels of
bFGH decreased, whereas the levels of VEGF were unchanged. Yuan et al.  published an
article about the influence of the ZnO NPs on HepG2 cells. This type of NPs caused, in addition
to mitochondrial dysfunction, changes in apoptosis-related proteins expression, e.g.: p-Akt,
FOXO4, p-ERK, and p-JNK.
In this study, we confirmed the toxicity of NG to glioblastoma (U87) cells and showed some
positive impact of ND and NG on hepatoma (C3A) cells. However, we observed impaired
albumin secretion by C3A cells in the presence of both ND and NG. We did not observe any
notable differences between the morphology, viability and physiology of nontransduced and
EGFP-expressing cells. Moreover, in some experiments, cells expressing the fluorescent marker
had an advantage over their nonlabeled counterparts. We observed higher values of CI in
EGFP-expressing glioblastoma cells than in nontransduced cells after NG and ND treatment.
Additionally, the albumin level after NG and ND treatment in EGFP-expressing hepatoma
cells was higher with respect to nontransduced cells.
Analysis of the results of potential cytotoxicity of the carbon-based NPs in U87 and C3A
cells demonstrated their differential interactions and advantages, depending on the cell type.
However, more research on physicochemical characteristics of these NPs is needed before firm
conclusions can be drawn.
Conceived and designed the experiments: KEZ AS MW ES DGP KDP. Performed the
experiments: KEZ AS MW SJ MK. Analyzed the data: KEZ AS MW SJ ES AC KDP. Contributed
reagents/materials/analysis tools: MW ES DGP KDP. Wrote the paper: KEZ AS MW ES AC
DGP KDP. Obtained the approval for research on human cell lines modified by lentiviral
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