Assay of Calcium Transients and Synapses in Rat Hippocampal Neurons by Kinetic Image Cytometry and High-Content Analysis: An In Vitro Model System for Postchemotherapy Cognitive Impairment

Assay Drug Dev Technol. 2017 Jul;15(5):220-236. doi: 10.1089/adt.2017.797.


Postchemotherapy cognitive impairment (PCCI) is commonly exhibited by cancer patients treated with a variety of chemotherapeutic agents, including the endocrine disruptor tamoxifen (TAM). The etiology of PCCI is poorly understood. Our goal was to develop high-throughput assay methods to test the effects of chemicals on neuronal function applicable to PCCI. Rat hippocampal neurons (RHNs) were plated in 96- or 384-well dishes and exposed to test compounds (forskolin [FSK], 17β-estradiol [ES]), TAM or fulvestrant [FUL], aka ICI 182,780) for 6-14 days. Kinetic Image Cytometry™ (KIC™) methods were developed to quantify spontaneously occurring intracellular calcium transients representing the activity of the neurons, and high-content analysis (HCA) methods were developed to quantify the expression, colocalization, and puncta formed by synaptic proteins (postsynaptic density protein-95 [PSD-95] and presynaptic protein Synapsin-1 [Syn-1]). As quantified by KIC, FSK increased the occurrence and synchronization of the calcium transients indicating stimulatory effects on RHN activity, whereas TAM had inhibitory effects. As quantified by HCA, FSK also increased PSD-95 puncta and PSD-95:Syn-1 colocalization, whereas ES increased the puncta of both PSD-95 and Syn-1 with little effect on colocalization. The estrogen receptor antagonist FUL also increased PSD-95 puncta. In contrast, TAM reduced Syn-1 and PSD-95:Syn-1 colocalization, consistent with its inhibitory effects on the calcium transients. Thus TAM reduced activity and synapse formation by the RHNs, which may relate to the ability of this agent to cause PCCI. The results illustrate that KIC and HCA can be used to quantify neurotoxic and neuroprotective effects of chemicals in RHNs to investigate mechanisms and potential therapeutics for PCCI.

Keywords: PSD-95; Synapsin-1; calcium transients; estrogen; forskolin; tamoxifen.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / toxicity*
  • Calcium / analysis*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium Signaling / drug effects
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / chemically induced
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Hippocampus / chemistry*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Image Cytometry / methods*
  • Kinetics
  • Neurons / chemistry
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Synapses / chemistry*
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Calcium