There is a need for rapid, efficient and cost-effective alternatives to traditional in vivo developmental neurotoxicity testing. In vitro cell culture models can recapitulate many of the key cellular processes of nervous system development, including neurite outgrowth, and may be used as screening tools to identify potential developmental neurotoxicants. The present study compared primary rat cortical cultures and human embryonic stem cell-derived neural cultures in terms of: 1) reproducibility of high content image analysis based neurite outgrowth measurements, 2) dynamic range of neurite outgrowth measurements and 3) sensitivity to chemicals which have been shown to inhibit neurite outgrowth. There was a large increase in neurite outgrowth between 2 and 24h in both rat and human cultures. Image analysis data collected across multiple cultures demonstrated that neurite outgrowth measurements in rat cortical cultures were more reproducible and had higher dynamic range as compared to human neural cultures. Human neural cultures were more sensitive than rat cortical cultures to chemicals previously shown to inhibit neurite outgrowth. Parallel analysis of morphological (neurite count, neurite length) and cytotoxicity (neurons per field) measurements were used to detect selective effects on neurite outgrowth. All chemicals which inhibited neurite outgrowth in rat cortical cultures did so at concentrations which did not concurrently affect the number of neurons per field, indicating selective effects on neurite outgrowth. In contrast, more than half the chemicals which inhibited neurite outgrowth in human neural cultures did so at concentrations which concurrently decreased the number of neurons per field, indicating that effects on neurite outgrowth were secondary to cytotoxicity. Overall, these data demonstrate that the culture models performed differently in terms of reproducibility, dynamic range and sensitivity to neurite outgrowth inhibitors. While human neural cultures were more sensitive to neurite outgrowth inhibitors, they also had a lower dynamic range for detecting chemical-induced neurite outgrowth inhibition and greater variability from culture-to-culture as compared to rat primary cortical cultures.
Published by Elsevier Inc.