Influence of serum concentration in retinoic acid and phorbol ester induced differentiation of SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cell line

Kasthuri Bai Magalingam, Ammu Kutty Radhakrishnan, Sushela Devi Somanath, Shadab Md, Nagaraja Haleagrahara

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Numerous protocols to establish dopaminergic phenotype in SH-SY5Y cells have been reported. In most of these protocols there are variations in concentration of serum used. In this paper, we compared the effects of high (10%), low (3%) and descending (2.5%/1%) serum concentration in differentiation medium containing different proportion of retinoic acid (RA) and 12-O-Tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate (TPA) or RA-only on the undifferentiated SH-SY5Y cells with regards to cell morphology, biochemical and gene expression alterations. Cells differentiated in culture medium containing low and descending serum concentrations showed increased number of neurite projections and reduced proliferation rates when compared to undifferentiated cells. The SH-SY5Y cells differentiated in culture medium containing 3% RA and low serum or descending (2.5%/1% RA/TPA) were found to be more susceptible to 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) induced cytotoxicity. Cells differentiated with RA/TPA or RA differentiated showed increased production of the α-synuclein (SNCA) neuroprotein and dopamine neurotransmitter compared to undifferentiated cells, regardless serum concentrations used. There was no significant difference in the expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) gene between undifferentiated and differentiated SH-SY5Y cells. However, the expression of dopamine receptor D2 (DRD2) gene was markedly increased (p<0.05) in differentiated cells with 3% serum and RA only when compared to undifferentiated cells. In conclusion, to terminally differentiate SH-SY5Y cells to be used as a cell-based model to study Parkinson’s disease (PD) to investigate molecular mechanisms and drug discovery, the optimal differentiation medium should contain 3% serum in RA-only

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8775-8788
Number of pages14
JournalMolecular Biology Reports
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • all-trans retinoic acid
  • differentiation
  • Dopamine
  • Dopamine receptor D2
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • phorbol ester
  • SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells
  • Tyrosine hydroxylase
  • α-synuclein

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