Nanotheranostics 2018; 2(3):222-232. doi:10.7150/ntno.25719 This issue

Research Paper

Bio-transformation of Graphene Oxide in Lung Fluids Significantly Enhances Its Photothermal Efficacy

Yun Liu1,2,#, Yu Qi3,#, Chunyang Yin2,4, Shunhao Wang2,4, Shuping Zhang5, An Xu1, Wei Chen3✉, Sijin Liu2,4,✉

1. Key Laboratory of High Magnetic Field and Ion Beam Physical Biology, Hefei Institutes of Physical Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Anhui Province Key Laboratory of Environmental Toxicology and Pollution Control Technology, Hefei, Anhui 230031, China.
2. State Key Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry and Ecotoxicology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China.
3. College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Ministry of Education Key Laboratory of Pollution Processes and Environmental Criteria, Tianjin Key Laboratory of Environmental Remediation and Pollution Control, Nankai University, Tianjin 300350, China.
4. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China.
5. Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
#These authors contributed equally to this work.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Liu Y, Qi Y, Yin C, Wang S, Zhang S, Xu A, Chen W, Liu S. Bio-transformation of Graphene Oxide in Lung Fluids Significantly Enhances Its Photothermal Efficacy. Nanotheranostics 2018; 2(3):222-232. doi:10.7150/ntno.25719. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Rationale: Graphene oxide (GO) has shown great promises in biomedical applications, such as drug delivery and thermotherapeutics, owing to its extraordinary physicochemical properties. Nonetheless, current biomedical applications of GO materials are premised on the basis of predesigned functions, and little consideration has been given to the influence of bio-transformation in the physiological environment on the physicochemical properties and predesigned functionalities of these materials. Hence, it is crucial to uncover the possible influence on GO's physicochemical properties and predesigned functionalities for better applications.

Methods: Bio-transformed GOs were characterized by X-ray diffraction (XRD) spectra, Raman spectra, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and Fourier transform infrared transmission (FT-IR) spectra. The morphologies of various GO materials were assessed via transmission electron microscopy (TEM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) images. The photothermal (PTT) performance of different GO materials in vitro and in vivo were measured using 808 nm laser at a power density of 2 W/cm2. The PTT efficacy was determined using transplanted 4T1 cells-derived breast tumors in mice.

Results: Bio-transformation of GO in the lung (a main target organ for GO to localize in vivo) can induce dramatic changes to its physicochemical properties and morphology, and consequently, its performances in biomedical applications. Specifically, GO underwent significant reduction in two simulated lung fluids, Gamble's solution and artificial lysosomal fluid (ALF), as evidenced by the increase of C/O ratio (the ratio of C content to O content) relative to pristine GO. Bio-transformation also altered GO's morphology, characterized by sheet folding and wrinkle formation. Intriguingly, bio-transformation elevated the PTT performance of GO in vitro, and this elevation further facilitated PTT-based tumor-killing efficacy in tumor cells in vitro and in a mouse model with transplanted tumors. Bio-transformation also compromised the interaction between drug with GO, leading to reduced drug adsorption, as tested using doxorubicin (DOX).

Conclusions: Transformation in Gamble's solution and ALF resulted in varied degrees of improved performances of GO, due to the differential effects on GO's physicochemical properties. Our findings unveiled an overlooked impact of GO bio-transformation, and unearthed a favorable trait of GO materials in thermotherapeutics and drug delivery in the lung microenvironment.

Keywords: Graphene Oxide, Bio-transformation, Simulated Lung Fluids, Physicochemical Properties, Functionality