Evaluation of chemical compounds that inhibit neurite outgrowth using GFP-labeled iPSC-derived human neurons

Neurotoxicology. 2021 Mar;83:137-145. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2021.01.003. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


Due to the increasing number of drugs and untested environmental compounds introduced into commercial use, there is recognition for a need to develop reliable and efficient screening methods to identify compounds that may adversely impact the nervous system. One process that has been implicated in neurodevelopment is neurite outgrowth; the disruption of which can result in adverse outcomes that persist later in life. Here, we developed a green fluorescent protein (GFP) labeled neurite outgrowth assay in a high-content, high-throughput format using induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) derived human spinal motor neurons and cortical glutamatergic neurons. The assay was optimized for use in a 1536-well plate format. Then, we used this assay to screen a set of 84 unique compounds that have previously been screened in other neurite outgrowth assays. This library consists of known developmental neurotoxicants, environmental compounds with unknown toxicity, and negative controls. Neurons were cultured for 40 h and then treated with compounds at 11 concentrations ranging from 1.56 nM to 92 μM for 24 and 48 h. Effects of compounds on neurite outgrowth were evaluated by quantifying total neurite length, number of segments, and maximum neurite length per cell. Among the 84 tested compounds, neurite outgrowth in cortical neurons and motor neurons were selectively inhibited by 36 and 31 compounds, respectively. Colchicine, rotenone, and methyl mercuric (II) chloride inhibited neurite outgrowth in both cortical and motor neurons. It is interesting to note that some compounds like parathion and bisphenol AF had inhibitory effects on neurite outgrowth specifically in the cortical neurons, while other compounds, such as 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether and caffeine, inhibited neurite outgrowth in motor neurons. The data gathered from these studies show that GFP-labeled iPSC-derived human neurons are a promising tool for identifying and prioritizing compounds with developmental neurotoxicity potential for further hazard characterization.

Keywords: Developmental neurotoxicity; High-content imaging; High-throughput screening; Neurite outgrowth.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Cell Line
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / biosynthesis*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / pathology
  • Neural Stem Cells / drug effects*
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Neural Stem Cells / pathology
  • Neuronal Outgrowth / drug effects*
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Toxicity Tests*


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins