Human neuronal signaling and communication assays to assess functional neurotoxicity
Archives of Toxicology
Prediction of drug toxicity on the human nervous system still relies mainly on animal experiments. Here, we developed an alternative system allowing assessment of complex signaling in both individual human neurons and on the network level. The LUHMES cultures used for our approach can be cultured in 384-well plates with high reproducibility. We established here high-throughput quantification of free intracellular Ca2+ concentrations [Ca2+]i as broadly applicable surrogate of neuronal activity and verified the main processes by patch clamp recordings. Initially, we characterized the expression pattern of many neuronal signaling components and selected the purinergic receptors to demonstrate the applicability of the [Ca2+]i signals for quantitative characterization of agonist and antagonist responses on classical ionotropic neurotransmitter receptors. This included receptor sub-typing and the characterization of the anti-parasitic drug suramin as modulator of the cellular response to ATP. To exemplify potential studies on ion channels, we characterized voltage-gated sodium channels and their inhibition by tetrodotoxin, saxitoxin and lidocaine, as well as their opening by the plant alkaloid veratridine and the food-relevant marine biotoxin ciguatoxin. Even broader applicability of [Ca2+]i quantification as an endpoint was demonstrated by measurements of dopamine transporter activity based on the membrane potential-changing activity of this neurotransmitter carrier. The substrates dopamine or amphetamine triggered [Ca2+]i oscillations that were synchronized over the entire culture dish. We identified compounds that modified these oscillations by interfering with various ion channels. Thus, this new test system allows multiple types of neuronal signaling, within and between cells, to be assessed, quantified and characterized for their potential disturbance.