Digoxin Induces Human Astrocyte Reaction In Vitro

Mol Neurobiol. 2023 Jan;60(1):84-97. doi: 10.1007/s12035-022-03057-1. Epub 2022 Oct 12.


Astrocyte reaction is a complex cellular process involving astrocytes in response to various types of CNS injury and a marker of neurotoxicity. It has been abundantly studied in rodents but relatively poorly in human cells due to limited access to the brain. Astrocytes play important roles in cerebral energy metabolism and are also key players in neuroinflammation. Astroglial metabolic and inflammatory changes have been reported with age, leading to the hypothesis that mitochondrial metabolism and inflammatory responses are interconnected. However, the relationship between energy metabolism and astrocyte reactivity in the context of neurotoxicity is not known. We hypothesized that changes in energy metabolism of astrocytes will be coupled to their activation by xenobiotics. Astrocyte reaction and associated energy metabolic changes were assessed by immunostaining, gene expression, proteomics, metabolomics, and extracellular flux analyses after 24 h of exposure of human ReN-derived astrocytes to digoxin (1-10 µM) or TNFα (30 ng/ml) used as a positive control. Strong astrocytic reaction was observed, accompanied by increased glycolysis at low concentrations of digoxin (0.1 and 0.5 µM) and after TNFα exposure, suggesting that increased glycolysis may be a common feature of reactive astrocytes, independent of the triggering molecule. In conclusion, whether astrocyte activation is triggered by cytokines or a xenobiotic, it is strongly tied to energy metabolism in human ReN-derived astrocytes. Increased glycolysis might be considered as an endpoint to detect astrocyte activation by potentially neurotoxic compounds in vitro. Finally, ReN-derived astrocytes may help to decipher mechanisms of neurotoxicity in ascertaining the ability of chemicals to directly target astrocytes.

Keywords: Astrocytes; Astrogliosis; Energy metabolism; Glycolysis; Neuroinflammation; Neurotoxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes* / drug effects
  • Astrocytes* / metabolism
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Central Nervous System / metabolism
  • Digoxin* / pharmacology
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / pharmacology


  • Digoxin
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha