neuron

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Neurotoxicology: Principles and Considerations of In Vitro Assessment

Michael Aschner and Tore Syversen

Neurotoxicology is an exciting area of science, not only because of the importance of toxic injury to the nervous system in human disease, but also because specific toxicants have served as invaluable tools for the advancement of our knowledge of “normal” neurobiological processes. In fact, much of our understanding of the organisation and function of the nervous system is based on observations derived from the actions of neurotoxicants. This paper addresses various physiological aspects behind the exquisite sensitivity of the nervous system to toxic agents, including the privileged status of the nervous system visà-vis blood-brain barrier function, the extensions of the nervous system over space and the requirements of cells with such a complex geometry, and the transmission of information across extracellular space. In addition, in vitro models and their utility in the assessment of neurotoxicological outcome are discussed, with reference to both their advantages and disadvantages.
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Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor as an Indicator of Chemical Neurotoxicity: An Animal-free CNS Cell Culture Model

Elizabeth K. Woehrling, Eric J. Hill, David Nagel1 and Michael D. Coleman

Recent changes to the legislation on chemicals and cosmetics testing call for a change in the paradigm regarding the current ‘whole animal’ approach for identifying chemical hazards, including the assessment of potential neurotoxins. Accordingly, since 2004, we have worked on the development of the integrated co-culture of post-mitotic, human-derived neurons and astrocytes (NT2.N/A), for use as an in vitro functional central nervous system (CNS) model. We have used it successfully to investigate indicators of neurotoxicity. For this purpose, we used NT2.N/A cells to examine the effects of acute exposure to a range of test chemicals on the cellular release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). It was demonstrated that the release of this protective neurotrophin into the culture medium (above that of control levels) occurred consistently in response to sub-cytotoxic levels of known neurotoxic, but not non-neurotoxic, chemicals. These increases in BDNF release were quantifiable, statistically significant, and occurred at concentrations below those at which cell death was measureable, which potentially indicates specific neurotoxicity, as opposed to general cytotoxicity. The fact that the BDNF immunoassay is non-invasive, and that NT2.N/A cells retain their functionality for a period of months, may make this system useful for repeated dose toxicity testing, which is of particular relevance to cosmetics testing without the use of laboratory animals. In addition, the production of NT2.N/A cells without the use of animal products, such as fetal bovine serum, is being explored, to produce a fully-humanised cellular model.
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