Exposure to serotonin adversely affects oligodendrocyte development and myelination in vitro

J Neurochem. 2015 May;133(4):532-43. doi: 10.1111/jnc.12988. Epub 2015 Jan 28.


Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) has been implicated to play critical roles in early neural development. Recent reports have suggested that perinatal exposure to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) resulted in cortical network miswiring, abnormal social behavior, callosal myelin malformation, as well as oligodendrocyte (OL) pathology in rats. To gain further insight into the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying SSRIs-induced OL and myelin abnormalities, we investigated the effect of 5-HT exposure on OL development, cell death, and myelination in cell culture models. First, we showed that 5-HT receptor 1A and 2A subtypes were expressed in OL lineages, using immunocytochemistry, Western blot, as well as intracellular Ca(2+) measurement. We then assessed the effect of serotonin exposure on the lineage development, expression of myelin proteins, cell death, and myelination, in purified OL and neuron-OL myelination cultures. For pure OL cultures, our results showed that 5-HT exposure led to disturbance of OL development, as indicated by aberrant process outgrowth and reduced myelin proteins expression. At higher doses, such exposure triggered a development-dependent cell death, as immature OLs exhibited increasing susceptibility to 5-HT treatment compared to OL progenitor cells (OPC). We showed further that 5-HT-induced immature OL death was mediated at least partially via 5-HT2A receptor, since cell death could be mimicked by 5-HT2A receptor agonist 1-(2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodophenyl)-2-aminopropane hydrochloride, (±)-2,5-dimethoxy-4-iodoamphetamine hydrochloride, but atten-uated by pre-treatment with 5-HT2A receptor antagonist ritanserin. Utilizing a neuron-OL myelination co-culture model, our data showed that 5-HT exposure significantly reduced the number of myelinated internodes. In contrast to cell injury observed in pure OL cultures, 5-HT exposure did not lead to OL death or reduced OL density in neuron-OL co-cultures. However, abnormal patterns of contactin-associated protein (Caspr) clustering were observed at the sites of Node of Ranvier, suggesting that 5-HT exposure may affect other axon-derived factors for myelination. In summary, this is the first study to demonstrate that manipulation of serotonin levels affects OL development and myelination, which may contribute to altered neural connectivity noted in SSRIs-treated animals. The current in vitro study demonstrated that exposure to high level of serotonin (5-HT) led to aberrant oligodendrocyte (OL) development, cell injury, and myelination deficit. We propose that elevated extracellular serotonin levels in the fetal brain, such as upon the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) during pregnancy, may adversely affect OL development and/or myelination, thus contributing to altered neural connectivity seen in Autism Spectrum Disorders. OPC = oligodendrocyte progenitor cell.

Keywords: apoptosis; differentiation; myelination; oligoden-drocyte; rat; serotonin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death / drug effects
  • Cell Lineage / drug effects*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Coculture Techniques
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects*
  • Myelin Proteins / genetics
  • Myelin Proteins / metabolism
  • Myelin Sheath / metabolism
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Oligodendroglia / drug effects*
  • Oligodendroglia / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A / metabolism
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT2A / metabolism
  • Serotonin / adverse effects*


  • Myelin Proteins
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT2A
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A
  • Serotonin