Stage-specific metabolic features of differentiating neurons: implications for toxicant sensitivity

Johannes Delp, Simon Gutbier, Martin Cerff, Christin Zasada, Sebastian Niedenführ, Liang Zhao, Lena Smirnova, Thomas Hartung, Hanna Borlinghaus, Falk Schreiber, Jörg Bergemann, Jochem Gätgens, Martin Beyss, Salah Azzouzi, Tanja Waldmann, Stefan Kempa, Katharina Nöh, Marcel Leist

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25 Citations (Scopus)


Developmental neurotoxicity (DNT) may be induced when chemicals disturb a key neurodevelopmental process, and many tests focus on this type of toxicity. Alternatively, DNT may occur when chemicals are cytotoxic only during a specific neurodevelopmental stage. The toxicant sensitivity is affected by the expression of toxicant targets and by resilience factors. Although cellular metabolism plays an important role, little is known how it changes during human neurogenesis, and how potential alterations affect toxicant sensitivity of mature vs. immature neurons. We used immature (d0) and mature (d6) LUHMES cells (dopaminergic human neurons) to provide initial answers to these questions. Transcriptome profiling and characterization of energy metabolism suggested a switch from predominantly glycolytic energy generation to a more pronounced contribution of the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) during neuronal maturation. Therefore, we used pulsed stable isotope-resolved metabolomics (pSIRM) to determine intracellular metabolite pool sizes (concentrations), and isotopically non-stationary 13C-metabolic flux analysis (INST 13C-MFA) to calculate metabolic fluxes. We found that d0 cells mainly use glutamine to fuel the TCA. Furthermore, they rely on extracellular pyruvate to allow continuous growth. This metabolic situation does not allow for mitochondrial or glycolytic spare capacity, i.e. the ability to adapt energy generation to altered needs. Accordingly, neuronal precursor cells displayed a higher sensitivity to several mitochondrial toxicants than mature neurons differentiated from them. In summary, this study shows that precursor cells lose their glutamine dependency during differentiation while they gain flexibility of energy generation and thereby increase their resistance to low concentrations of mitochondrial toxicants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-80
Number of pages17
JournalToxicology and Applied Pharmacology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • C labeling experiment
  • Developmental neurotoxicity
  • Energy metabolism
  • Metabolic flux
  • Metabolomics
  • Oxygen consumption

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