Differentiated NSC-34 motoneuron-like cells as experimental model for cholinergic neurodegeneration

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HighlightsRetinoic acid induces neuronal and cholinergic maturation in NSC-34 cells.Neuronal differentiation is followed by an increase of Bcl-2.Undifferentiated NSC-34 cells show a higher vulnerability to neurotoxins.Alpha-motoneurons appear to be exceedingly affected in neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Morphological and physiological degeneration of this neuronal phenotype is typically characterized by a marked decrease of neuronal markers and by alterations of cholinergic metabolism such as reduced choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) expression. The motoneuron-like cell line NSC-34 is a hybrid cell line produced by fusion of neuroblastoma with mouse motoneuron-enriched primary spinal cord cells. In order to further establish this cell line as a valid model system to investigate cholinergic neurodegeneration, NSC-34 cells were differentiated by serum deprivation and additional treatment with all-trans retinoic acid (atRA). Cell maturation was characterized by neurite outgrowth and increased expression of neuronal and cholinergic markers, including MAP2, GAP-43 and ChAT. Subsequently, we used differentiated NSC-34 cells to study early degenerative responses following exposure to various neurotoxins (H2O2, TNF-α, and glutamate). Susceptibility to toxin-induced cell death was determined by means of morphological changes, expression of neuronal marker proteins, and the ratio of pro-(Bax) to anti-(Bcl-2) apoptotic proteins. NSC-34 cells respond to low doses of neurotoxins with increased cell death of remaining undifferentiated cells with no obvious adverse effects on differentiated cells. Thus, the different vulnerability of differentiated and undifferentiated NSC-34 cells to neurotoxins is a key characteristic of NSC-34 cells and has to be considered in neurotoxic studies. Nonetheless, application of atRA induced differentiation of NSC-34 cells and provides a suitable model to investigate molecular events linked to neurodegeneration of differentiated neurons.

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