Arsenite interrupts neurodevelopmental processes of human and rat neural progenitor cells: The role of reactive oxygen species and species-specific antioxidative defense

Chemosphere. 2019 Nov;235:447-456. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.06.123. Epub 2019 Jun 17.


Arsenic exposure disturbs brain development in humans. Although developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) of arsenic has been studied in vivo and in vitro, its mode-of-action (MoA) is not completely understood. Here, we characterize the adverse neurodevelopmental effects of sodium arsenite on developing human and rat neural progenitor cells (hNPC, rNPC). Moreover, we analyze the involvement of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and the role of the glutathione (GSH)-dependent antioxidative defense for arsenite-induced DNT in a species-specific manner. We determined IC50 values for sodium arsenite-dependent (0.1-10 μM) inhibition of hNPC and rNPC migration (6.0 μM; >10 μM), neuronal (2.7 μM; 4.4 μM) and oligodendrocyte (1.1 μM; 2.0 μM) differentiation. ROS involvement was studied by quantifying the expression of ROS-regulated genes, measuring glutathione (GSH) levels, inhibiting GSH synthesis and co-exposing cells to the antioxidant N-acetylcysteine. Arsenite reduces NPC migration, neurogenesis and oligodendrogenesis of differentiating hNPC and rNPC at sub-cytotoxic concentrations. Species-specific arsenite cytotoxicity and induction of antioxidative gene expression is inversely related to GSH levels with rNPC possessing >3-fold the amount of GSH than hNPC. Inhibition of GSH synthesis increased the sensitivity towards arsenite in rNPC > hNPC. N-acetylcysteine antagonized arsenite-mediated induction of HMOX1 expression as well as reduction of neuronal and oligodendrocyte differentiation in hNPC suggesting involvement of oxidative stress in arsenite DNT. hNPC are more sensitive towards arsenite-induced neurodevelopmental toxicity than rNPC, probably due to their lower antioxidative defense capacities. This species-specific MoA data might be useful for adverse outcome pathway generation and future integrated risk assessment strategies concerning DNT.

Keywords: Alternative method; Developmental neurotoxicity; Mode-of-action; Neural progenitor cells; ROS; Testing battery.

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Arsenites / toxicity*
  • Glutathione / metabolism
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Heme Oxygenase-1 / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neurogenesis / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Sodium Compounds
  • Species Specificity
  • Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Toxicity Tests


  • Antioxidants
  • Arsenites
  • Hazardous Substances
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Sodium Compounds
  • sodium arsenite
  • Heme Oxygenase-1
  • Glutathione
  • arsenite
  • Arsenic
  • Acetylcysteine