Femtosecond pulsed laser microscopy: A new tool to assess the in vitro delivered dose of carbon nanotubes in cell culture experiments
Background In vitro models are widely used in nanotoxicology. In these assays, a careful documentation of the fraction of nanomaterials that reaches the cells, i.e. the in vitro delivered dose, is a critical element for the interpretation of the data. The in vitro delivered dose can be measured by quantifying the amount of material in contact with the cells, or can be estimated by applying particokinetic models. For carbon nanotubes (CNTs), the determination of the in vitro delivered dose is not evident because their quantification in biological matrices is difficult, and particokinetic models are not adapted to high aspect ratio materials. Here, we applied a rapid and direct approach, based on femtosecond pulsed laser microscopy (FPLM), to assess the in vitro delivered dose of multi-walled CNTs (MWCNTs). Methods and results We incubated mouse lung fibroblasts (MLg) and differentiated human monocytic cells (THP-1) in 96-well plates for 24 h with a set of different MWCNTs. The cytotoxic response to the MWCNTs was evaluated using the WST-1 assay in both cell lines, and the pro-inflammatory response was determined by measuring the release of IL-1v by THP-1 cells. Contrasting cell responses were observed across the MWCNTs. The sedimentation rate of the different MWCNTs was assessed by monitoring turbidity decay with time in cell culture medium. These turbidity measurements revealed some differences among the MWCNT samples which, however, did not parallel the contrasting cell responses. FPLM measurements in cell culture wells revealed that the in vitro delivered MWCNT dose did not parallel sedimentation data, and suggested that cultured cells contributed to set up the delivered dose. The FPLM data allowed, for each MWCNT sample, an adjustment of the measured cytotoxicity and IL-1v responses to the delivered doses. This adjusted in vitro activity led to another toxicity ranking of the MWCNT samples as compared to the unadjusted activities. In macrophages, this adjusted ranking was consistent with existing knowledge on the impact of surface MWCNT functionalization on cytotoxicity, and might better reflect the intrinsic activity of the MWCNT samples. Conclusion The present study further highlights the need to estimate the in vitro delivered dose in cell culture experiments with nanomaterials. The FPLM measurement of the in vitro delivered dose of MWCNTs can enrich experimental results, and may refine our understanding of their interactions with cells.