Cytotoxicity of single-walled carbon nanotubes suspended in various surfactants

Lifeng Dong, Missouri State University
Katherine L. Joseph, MSU Undergraduate
Colette M. Witkowski, Missouri State University
Michael M. Craig, Missouri State University


The cytotoxicity of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) suspended in various surfactants was investigated by phase contrast light microscopy characterization in combination with an absorbance spectroscopy cytotoxicity analysis. Our data indicate that individual SWCNTs suspended in the surfactants, sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) and sodium dodecylbenzene sulfonate (SDBS), were toxic to 1321N1 human astrocytoma cells due to the toxicity of SDS and SDBS on the nanotube surfaces. This toxicity was observed when cells were exposed to an SDS or SDBS solution having a concentration as low as 0.05 mg ml−1 for 30 min. The proliferation and viability of the cells were not affected by SWCNTs alone or by conjugates of SWCNTs with various concentrations of sodium cholate (SC) or single-stranded DNA. The cells proliferated similarly to untreated cells when surrounded by SWCNTs as they grow, which indicated that the nanotubes did not affect cells adversely. The cytotoxicity of the nanotube–surfactant conjugates was controlled in these experiments by the toxicity of the surfactants. Consequently, when evaluating a surfactant to be used for the dispersion of nanoscale materials in applications such as nanoscale electronics or non-viral biomolecular transporters, the cytotoxicity needs to be evaluated. The methodology proposed in this study can be used to investigate the cytotoxicity of other nanoscale materials suspended in a variety of surfactants.