Graphene-Induced Pore Formation on Cell Membranes
Examining interactions between nanomaterials and cell membranes can expose underlying mechanisms of nanomaterial cytotoxicity and guide the design of safer nanomedical technologies. Recently, graphene has been shown to exhibit potential toxicity to cells; however, the molecular processes driving its lethal properties have yet to be fully characterized. We here demonstrate that graphene nanosheets (both pristine and oxidized) can produce holes (pores) in the membranes of A549 and Raw264.7 cells, substantially reducing cell viability. Electron micrographs offer clear evidence of pores created on cell membranes. Our molecular dynamics simulations reveal that multiple graphene nanosheets can cooperate to extract large numbers of phospholipids from the membrane bilayer. Strong dispersion interactions between graphene and lipid-tail carbons result in greatly depleted lipid density within confined regions of the membrane, ultimately leading to the formation of water-permeable pores. This cooperative lipid extraction mechanism for membrane perforation represents another distinct process that contributes to the molecular basis of graphene cytotoxicity.