Reactive oxygen species (ROS) production is important in the toxicity of pathogenic particles such as fibres. We examined the oxidative potential of straight (50 microm and 10 microm) and tangled carbon nanotubes in a cell free assay, in vitro and in vivo using different dispersants. The cell free oxidative potential of tangled nanotubes was higher than for the straight fibres. In cultured macrophages tangled tubes exhibited significantly more ROS at 30 min, while straight tubes increased ROS at 4 h. ROS was significantly higher in bronchoalveolar lavage cells of animals instilled with tangled and 10 mum straight fibres, whereas the number of neutrophils increased only in animals treated with the long tubes. Addition of dispersants in the suspension media lead to enhanced ROS detection by entangled tubes in the cell-free system. Tangled fibres generated more ROS in a cell-free system and in cultured cells, while straight fibres generated a slower but more prolonged effect in animals.