Cell differentiation is associated with changes in metabolism and function. Understanding these changes during differentiation is important in the context of stem cell research, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. An early event in neurodegenerative diseases is the alteration of mitochondrial function and increased oxidative stress. Studies using both undifferentiated and differentiated SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells have shown distinct responses to cellular stressors; however, the mechanisms remain unclear. We hypothesized that because the regulation of glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation is modulated during cellular differentiation, this would change bioenergetic function and the response to oxidative stress. To test this, we used retinoic acid (RA) to induce differentiation of SH-SY5Y cells and assessed changes in cellular bioenergetics using extracellular flux analysis. After exposure to RA, the SH-SY5Y cells had an increased mitochondrial membrane potential, without changing mitochondrial number. Differentiated cells exhibited greater stimulation of mitochondrial respiration with uncoupling and an increased bioenergetic reserve capacity. The increased reserve capacity in the differentiated cells was suppressed by the inhibitor of glycolysis 2-deoxy-d-glucose. Furthermore, we found that differentiated cells were substantially more resistant to cytotoxicity and mitochondrial dysfunction induced by the reactive lipid species 4-hydroxynonenal or the reactive oxygen species generator 2,3-dimethoxy-1,4-naphthoquinone. We then analyzed the levels of selected mitochondrial proteins and found an increase in complex IV subunits, which we propose contributes to the increase in reserve capacity in the differentiated cells. Furthermore, we found an increase in MnSOD that could, at least in part, account for the increased resistance to oxidative stress. Our findings suggest that profound changes in mitochondrial metabolism and antioxidant defenses occur upon differentiation of neuroblastoma cells to a neuron-like phenotype.
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