Comparison of Acute Effects of Neurotoxic Compounds on Network Activity in Human and Rodent Neural Cultures

Toxicol Sci. 2021 Apr 12;180(2):295-312. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfab008.


Assessment of neuroactive effects of chemicals in cell-based assays remains challenging as complex functional tissue is required for biologically relevant readouts. Recent in vitro models using rodent primary neural cultures grown on multielectrode arrays allow quantitative measurements of neural network activity suitable for neurotoxicity screening. However, robust systems for testing effects on network function in human neural models are still lacking. The increasing number of differentiation protocols for generating neurons from human-induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs) holds great potential to overcome the unavailability of human primary tissue and expedite cell-based assays. Yet, the variability in neuronal activity, prolonged ontogeny and rather immature stage of most neuronal cells derived by standard differentiation techniques greatly limit their utility for screening neurotoxic effects on human neural networks. Here, we used excitatory and inhibitory neurons, separately generated by direct reprogramming from hiPSCs, together with primary human astrocytes to establish highly functional cultures with defined cell ratios. Such neuron/glia cocultures exhibited pronounced neuronal activity and robust formation of synchronized network activity on multielectrode arrays, albeit with noticeable delay compared with primary rat cortical cultures. We further investigated acute changes of network activity in human neuron/glia cocultures and rat primary cortical cultures in response to compounds with known adverse neuroactive effects, including gamma amino butyric acid receptor antagonists and multiple pesticides. Importantly, we observed largely corresponding concentration-dependent effects on multiple neural network activity metrics using both neural culture types. These results demonstrate the utility of directly converted neuronal cells from hiPSCs for functional neurotoxicity screening of environmental chemicals.

Keywords: cell-based assays; induced neurons; induced pluripotent stem cells; multielectrode arrays; neural network activity; neurotoxicity; neurotoxicity screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells*
  • Neurons
  • Rats
  • Rodentia*