Dynamic interactions and intracellular fate of label-free, thin graphene oxide sheets within mammalian cells: role of lateral sheet size

Yingxian Chen, Jack Rivers-Auty, Livia Crica, Katie Barr, Vinicio Rosano, Adrian Esteban Arranz, Thomas Loret, David Spiller, Cyrill Bussy, Kostas Kostarelos, Sandra Vranic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Graphene oxide (GO) holds great potential for biomedical applications, however fundamental understanding of the way it interacts with biological systems is still lacking even though it is essential for successful clinical translation. In this study, we exploit intrinsic fluorescent properties of thin GO sheets to establish the relationship between lateral dimensions of the material, its cellular uptake mechanisms and intracellular fate over time. Label-free GO with distinct lateral dimensions, small (s-GO) and ultra-small (us-GO) were thoroughly characterised both in water and in biologically relevant cell culture medium. Interactions of the material with a range of non-phagocytic mammalian cell lines (BEAS-2B, NIH/3T3, HaCaT, 293T) were studied using a combination of complementary analytical techniques (confocal microscopy, flow cytometry and TEM). The uptake mechanism was initially interrogated using a range of pharmaceutical inhibitors and validated using polystyrene beads of different diameters (0.1 and 1 μm). Subsequently, RNA-Seq was used to follow the changes in the uptake mechanism used to internalize s-GO flakes over time. Regardless of lateral dimensions, both types of GO were found to interact with the plasma membrane and to be internalized by a panel of cell lines studied. However, s-GO was internalized mainly via macropinocytosis while us-GO was mainly internalized via clathrin- and caveolae-mediated endocytosis. Importantly, we report the shift from macropinocytosis to clathrin-dependent endocytosis in the uptake of s-GO at 24 h, mediated by upregulation of mTORC1/2 pathway. Finally, we show that both s-GO and us-GO terminate in lysosomal compartments for up to 48 h. Our results offer an insight into the mechanism of interaction of GO with non-phagocytic cell lines over time that can be exploited for the design of biomedically-applicable 2D transport systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4166-4185
Number of pages20
JournalNanoscale Advances
Issue number14
Early online date15 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jul 2021


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  • CDT in Science and Applications of Graphene and Related Nanomaterial

    Grigorieva, I., Burnett, H., Cusworth, E., Deaconu, D., Dumitriu-Iovanescu, A., Kang, Y., Little, J., Rees, E., Selles, F., Shaker, M., Soong, Y., Swindell, J., Tainton, G., Wood, H., Astles, T., Carl, A., Chen, G., Richard De Latour, H., Dowinton, O., Haskell, S., Hills, K., Hoole, C., Huang, Y., Kalsi, T., Powell, L., Quiligotti, K., Rimmer, J., Smith, L., Thornley, W., Yang, J., Young, W., Zhao, M., Al Busaidi, R., Al Ruqeishi, E., Chadha, A., Chen, M., Dennis, G., Dunn, E., Gamblen, E., Gao, Y., Georgantas, Y., Jiang, Z., Karakasidi, A., Mcellistrim, A., Meehan, M., Okwelogu, E., Taylor, M., Wang, W., Xin, B., Castle, C., Clout, P., Dean, S. D., Fordham, A., Griffin, E., Hardwick, T., Hawkins-Pottier, G., Jones, A., Lewthwaite, K., Monteil, S., Moulsdale, C., Mullan, C., Orts Mercadillo, V., Sanderson, D., Skliueva, I., Skuse, C., Steiner, P., Winstanley, B., Barry, D., Brooks, D., Cai, J., Chen, Y., Chen, C., Draude, A., Emmerson, C., Gavriliuc, V., Greaves, M., Higgins, E., Mcmaster, R., Mcnair, R., O'Brien, C., Peasey, A., Pinter, G., Shao, S., Thomas, D., Thomas, D., Tsim, L. T. B., Wengraf, J., Weston, A., Yu, T., De Libero, H., Chan, K. C., Tan, Y. T. & Thomson, T.


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