Lateral size of graphene oxide determines differential cellular uptake and cell death pathways in Kupffer cells, LSECs, and hepatocytes

Jiulong Li, Xiang Wang, Kuo Ching Mei, Chong Hyun Chang, Jinhong Jiang, Xiangsheng Liu, Qi Liu, Linda M. Guiney, Mark C. Hersam, Yu Pei Liao, Huan Meng, Tian Xia*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


As a representative two-dimensional (2D) nanomaterial, graphene oxide (GO) has shown high potential in many applications due to its large surface area, high flexibility, and excellent dispersibility in aqueous solutions. These properties make GO an ideal candidate for bio-imaging, drug delivery, and cancer therapy. When delivered to the body, GO has been shown to accumulate in the liver, the primary accumulation site of systemic delivery or secondary spread from other uptake sites, and induce liver toxicity. However, the contribution of the GO physicochemical properties and individual liver cell types to this toxicity is unclear due to property variations and diverse cell types in the liver. Herein, we compare the effects of GOs with small (GO-S) and large (GO-L) lateral sizes in three major cell types in the liver, Kupffer cells (KCs), liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs), and hepatocytes. While GOs induced cytotoxicity in KCs, they induced significantly less toxicity in LSECs and hepatocytes. For KCs, we found that GOs were phagocytosed that triggered NADPH oxidase mediated plasma membrane lipid peroxidation, which leads to PLC activation, calcium flux, mitochondrial ROS generation, and NLRP3 inflammasome activation. The subsequent caspase-1 activation induced IL-1β production and GSDMD-mediated pyroptosis. These effects were lateral size-dependent with GO-L showing stronger effects than GO-S. Amongst the liver cell types, decreased cell association and the absence of lipid peroxidation resulted in low cytotoxicity in LSECs and hepatocytes. Using additional GO samples with different lateral sizes, surface functionalities, or thickness, we further confirmed the differential cytotoxic effects in liver cells and the major role of GO lateral size in KUP5 pyroptosis by correlation studies. These findings delineated the GO effects on cellular uptake and cell death pathways in liver cells, and provide valuable information to further evaluate GO effects on the liver for biomedical applications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101061
JournalNano Today
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • GSDMD-dependent pyroptosis
  • Graphene oxide
  • Lipid peroxidation
  • NADPH oxidase
  • Phagocytosis
  • Phospholipase C (PLC)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Pharmaceutical Science


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