Carbon nanotubes are being actively introduced in electronics, computer science, aerospace, and other industries. Thus, the urgent need for toxicological studies on CNTs is mounting. In this study, we investigated the alterations in cellular response with morphological changes induced by single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) in BEAS-2B cells, a human bronchial epithelial cell line. At 24. h after exposure, SWCNTs rapidly decreased ATP production and cell viability as well a slight increase in the number of cells in the subG1 and G1 phases. In addition, SWCNTs increased the expression of superoxide dismutase (SOD)-1, but not SOD-2, and the number of cells generating ROS. The concentration of Cu and Zn ions also increased in a dose-dependent manner in cells exposed to SWCNTs. SWCNTs significantly enhanced the release of nitric oxide, interleukin (IL)-6, and IL-8 and up-regulated the expression of chemokine- and cytokine-related genes. Furthermore, the levels of autophagy-related genes, especially the DRAM1 gene, and the autophagosome formation-related proteins, were clearly up-regulated together with an increase of autophagosome-like vacuoles. Based on these results, we suggest that SWCNTs induce autophagic cell death through mitochondrial dysfunction and cytosolic damage in human bronchial epithelial cells.
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