Multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) are new materials with a wide range of industrial and commercial applications. However, their nano-scaled size and fiber-like shape render them respirable and potentially fibrogenic if inhaled into the lungs. To understand MWCNT fibrogenesis, we analyzed the pathologic and molecular aspects of the early phase response to MWCNT in mouse lungs. MWCNT induced rapid and pronounced lesions in the lungs characterized by increased cellularity and formation of fibrotic foci, most notably near where MWCNT deposited, within 14 days post-exposure. Deposition of collagen fibers was markedly increased in the alveolar septa and fibrotic foci, accompanied by elevated expression of fibrotic genes Col1a1, Col1a2, and Fn1 at both mRNA and protein levels. Fibrosis was induced rapidly at 40 μg, wherein fibrotic changes were detected on day 1 and reached a maximal intensity on day 7 through day 14. Induction of fibrosis was dose-dependent at the dose range of 5-40 μg, 7 days post-exposure. MWCNT elicited rapid and prominent infiltrations of neutrophils and macrophages alongside fibrosis implicating acute inflammation in the fibrotic response. At the molecular level, MWCNT induced elevated expression of proinflammatory cytokines TNFα, IL1α, IL1β, IL6, and CCL2 in lung tissues as well as the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, in a dose- and time-dependent manner. MWCNT also increased the expression of fibrogenic growth factors TGF-β1 and PDGF-A in the lungs significantly. These findings underscore the interplay between acute inflammation and the early fibrotic response in the initiation and propagation of pulmonary fibrosis induced by MWCNT.
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