The molecular mechanisms underlying the cellular lost found in the nigrostriatal pathway during the progression of Parkinson's disease (PD) are not completely understood. Human neuroblastoma cell line SH-SY5Y challenged with 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) has been widely used as an in vitro model for PD. Although this cell line differentiates to dopaminergic neuron-like cells in response to low serum and retinoic acid (RA) treatment, there are few studies investigating the differences between proliferative and RA-differentiated SH-SY5Y cells. Here we evaluate morphological and biochemical changes which occurs during the differentiation of SH-SY5Y cells, and their responsiveness to 6-OHDA toxicity. Exponentially growing SH-SY5Y cells were maintained with DMEM/F12 medium plus 10% of fetal bovine serum (FBS). Differentiation was triggered by the combination of 10 microM RA plus 1% of FBS during 4, 7 and 10 days in culture. We found that SH-SY5Y cells differentiated for 7 days show an increase immunocontent of several relevant neuronal markers with the concomitant decrease in non-differentiated cell marker. Moreover, cells became two-fold more sensitive to 6-OHDA toxicity during the differentiation process. Time course experiments showed loss of mitochondrial membrane potential triggered by 6-OHDA (mitochondrial dysfunction parameter), which firstly occurs in proliferative than neuron-like differentiated cells. This finding could be related to the increase in the immunocontent of the neuroprotective protein DJ-1 during differentiation. Our data suggest that SH-SY5Y cells differentiated by 7 days with the protocol described here represent a more suitable experimental model for studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the pathophysiology of PD.
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