Several shortcomings of current Parkinson's disease (PD) models limit progress in identification of environmental contributions to disease pathogenesis. The conditionally immortalized cell line LUHMES promises to make human dopaminergic neuronal cultures more easily available, but these cells are difficult to culture for extended periods of time. We overcame this problem by culturing them in 3D with minor medium modifications. The 3D neuronal aggregates allowed penetration by small molecules and sufficient oxygen and nutrient supply for survival of the innermost cells. Using confocal microscopy, gene expression, and flow cytometry, we characterized the 3D model and observed a highly reproducible differentiation process. Visualization and quantification of neurites in aggregates was achieved by adding 2 % red fluorescent protein-transfected LUHMES cells. The mitochondrial toxicants and established experimental PD agents, rotenone and MPP+, perturbed genes involved in one-carbon metabolism and transsulfuration pathways (ASS1, CTH, and SHTM2) as in 2D cultures. We showed, for the first time in LUHMES, down-regulation of mir-7, a miRNA known to target alpha-synuclein and to be involved in PD. This was observed as early as 12 h after rotenone exposure, when pro-apoptotic mir-16 and rotenone-sensitive mir-210 were not yet significantly perturbed. Finally, washout experiments demonstrated that withdrawal of rotenone led to counter-regulation of mir-7 and ASS1, CTH, and SHTM2 genes. This suggests a possible role of these genes in direct cellular response to the toxicant, and the model appears to be suitable to address the processes of resilience and recovery in neurotoxicology and Parkinson's disease in future studies.
Keywords: 3D culture; Neurotoxicity; Resilience; Rotenone; microRNA.