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Airborne nanoparticles can be inhaled and deposit in human alveoli, where pulmonary surfactant (PS) molecules lining at the alveolar air–water interface act as the first barrier against inhaled nanoparticles entering the body. Although considerable efforts have been devoted to elucidate the mechanisms underlying nanoparticle-PS interactions, our understanding on this important issue is limited due to the high complexity of the atmosphere, in which nanoparticles are believed to experience transformations that remarkably change the nanoparticles’ surface properties and states. By contrast with bare nanoparticles that have been extensively studied, relatively little is known about the interactions between PS and inhaled nanoparticles which already adsorb contaminants. In this combined experimental and computational effort, we investigate the joint interactions between PS and graphene-family materials (GFMs) with coexisting benzo[a]pyrene (BaP).


Depending on the BaP concentration, molecular agglomeration, and graphene oxidation, different nanocomposite structures are formed via BaPs adsorption on GFMs. Upon deposition of GFMs carrying BaPs at the pulmonary surfactant (PS) layer, competition and cooperation of interactions between different components determines the interfacial processes including BaP solubilization, GFM translocation and PS perturbation. Importantly, BaPs adsorbed on GFMs are solubilized to increase BaP’s bioavailability. By contrast with graphene adhering on the PS layer to release part of adsorbed BaPs, more BaPs are released from graphene oxide, which induces a hydrophilic pore in the PS layer and shows adverse effect on the PS biophysical function. Translocation of graphene across the PS layer is facilitated by BaP adsorption through segregating it from contact with PS, while translocation of graphene oxide is suppressed by BaP adsorption due to the increase of surface hydrophobicity. Graphene extracts PS molecules from the layer, and the resultant PS depletion declines with graphene oxidation and BaP adsorption.


GFMs showed high adsorption capacity towards BaPs to form nanocomposites. Upon deposition of GFMs carrying BaPs at the alveolar air–water interface covered by a thin PS layer, the interactions of GFM-PS, GFM-BaP and BaP-PS determined the interfacial processes of BaP solubilization, GFM translocation and PS perturbation.

Journal or Book Title

Particle and Fibre Toxicology




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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.