Functionalized multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) have become the focus of increased research interest, particularly in their application as tools in different areas, such as the biomedical field. Despite the benefits associated with functionalization of MWCNT, particularly in overcoming issues relating to solubility, several studies have demonstrated that these functionalized nanoparticles display different toxicity profiles. For this study, we aim to compare NR8383 cells responses to three well-characterized MWCNT with varying functional groups. This study employed cytotoxicity assays, transcriptomics and proteomics to assess their toxicity using NR8383 rat alveolar macrophages as an in vitro model. The study findings indicated that all MWCNT altered ribosomal protein translation, cytoskeleton arrangement and induced pro-inflammatory response. Only functionalized MWCNT alter mTOR signaling pathway in conjunction with increased Lamtor gene expression. Furthermore, the type of functionalization was also important, with cationic MWCNT activating the transcription factor EB and inducing autophagy while the anionic MWCNT altering eukaryotic translation initiation factor 4 (EIF4) and phosphoprotein 70 ribosomal protein S6 kinase (p70S6K) signaling pathway as well as upregulation Tlr2 gene expression. This study proposes that MWCNT toxicity mechanisms are functionalization dependent and provides evidence that inflammatory response is a key event of carbon nanotubes toxicity.© The Author(s) 2020. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article' s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article'