Carbon nanotubes focus the attention of many scientists because of their huge potential of industrial applications, but there is a paucity of information on the toxicological properties of this material. The aim of this experimental study was to characterize the biological reactivity of purified multi-wall carbon nanotubes in the rat lung and in vitro. Multi-wall carbon nanotubes (CNT) or ground CNT were administered intratracheally (0.5, 2 or 5 mg) to Sprague-Dawley rats and we estimated lung persistence, inflammation and fibrosis biochemically and histologically. CNT and ground CNT were still present in the lung after 60 days (80% and 40% of the lowest dose) and both induced inflammatory and fibrotic reactions. At 2 months, pulmonary lesions induced by CNT were characterized by the formation of collagen-rich granulomas protruding in the bronchial lumen, in association with alveolitis in the surrounding tissues. These lesions were caused by the accumulation of large CNT agglomerates in the airways. Ground CNT were better dispersed in the lung parenchyma and also induced inflammatory and fibrotic responses. Both CNT and ground CNT stimulated the production of TNF-alpha in the lung of treated animals. In vitro, ground CNT induced the overproduction of TNF-alpha by macrophages. These results suggest that carbon nanotubes are potentially toxic to humans and that strict industrial hygiene measures should to be taken to limit exposure during their manipulation.