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Extracting pulmonary surfactants to form inverse micelles on suspending graphene nanosheets


The increasing risk of human exposure to emerging nanoparticles (NPs) has gained a wide concern on inhalation toxicity of these NPs. Once NPs are inhaled, they get through the branching airway to deposit in the alveoli, where a thin pulmonary surfactant (PS) layer acts as the first barrier against NPs entering the deep lung. However, for the inhalation toxicity of NPs, the mechanisms by which inhaled NPs interact with the PS layer and how the morphological change of NPs due to the interactions influences the subsequent fate of NPs are still elusive. By using molecular dynamics simulation, we investigate the interactions between graphene nanosheets (GNs) and the PS layer. It is found that when the GNs suspend above or slowly penetrate the PS layer, PS molecules can spontaneously be extracted from the layer and form inverse micelles via cooperative molecular motion and rearrangement on the GN surfaces. We demonstrate that the PS layer tension and GN properties, like size, oxidation ratio and curvature, significantly affect the extraction dynamics. Notably for curved GNs, only the concave surface can vigorously extract PS molecules, manifesting that the dispersive adhesion between GN and PS dominates the extracting and rearranging process. Our results propose new mechanisims for the experimental findings on inhalation toxicity of graphene-family nanomaterials. Moreover, bearing in mind that the surface properties of GNs have been masked by adsorbed PS molecules, the newly formed structure may act like a corona that influences the biological identity of GNs. Therefore, either evaluating inhalation toxicity or promoting biomedical applications of GNs should consider their first contact with the PS at the air-water interface in alveoli.

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Publication details

The article was received on 13 Sep 2017, accepted on 08 Nov 2017 and first published on 09 Nov 2017

Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C7EN00843K
Citation: Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2017, Accepted Manuscript
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    Extracting pulmonary surfactants to form inverse micelles on suspending graphene nanosheets

    Z. Luo, S. Li, Y. Xu, H. Ren, X. Zhang, G. Hu, F. Huang and T. Yue, Environ. Sci.: Nano, 2017, Accepted Manuscript , DOI: 10.1039/C7EN00843K

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