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Quantitative changes in intracellular calcium and extracellular-regulated kinase activation measured in parallel in CHO cells stably expressing serotonin (5-HT) 5-HT2A or 5-HT2C receptors

Patricia K Seitz12, Nicole M Bremer12, Andrew G McGinnis12, Kathryn A Cunningham12 and Cheryl S Watson13*

Author affiliations

1 Center for Addiction Research, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston TX 77555, USA

2 Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston TX 77555, USA

3 Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston TX 77555, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-25

Published: 7 March 2012



The serotonin (5-HT) 2A and 2C receptors (5-HT2AR and 5-HT2CR) are involved in a wide range of physiological and behavioral processes in the mammalian central and peripheral nervous systems. These receptors share a high degree of homology, have overlapping pharmacological profiles, and utilize many of the same and richly diverse second messenger signaling systems. We have developed quantitative assays for cells stably expressing these two receptors involving minimal cell sample manipulations that dramatically improve parallel assessments of two signaling responses: intracellular calcium (Cai++) changes and activation (phosphorylation) of downstream kinases. Such profiles are needed to begin to understand the simultaneous contributions from the multiplicity of signaling cascades likely to be initiated by serotonergic ligands.


We optimized the Cai++ assay for stable cell lines expressing either 5-HT2AR or 5-HT2CR (including dye use and measurement parameters; cell density and serum requirements). We adapted a quantitative 96-well plate immunoassay for pERK in the same cell lines. Similar cell density optima and time courses were observed for 5-HT2AR- and 5-HT2CR-expressing cells in generating both types of signaling. Both cell lines also require serum-free preincubation for maximal agonist responses in the pERK assay. However, 5-HT2AR-expressing cells showed significant release of Cai++ in response to 5-HT stimulation even when preincubated in serum-replete medium, while the response was completely eliminated by serum in 5-HT2CR-expressing cells. Response to another serotonergic ligand (DOI) was eliminated by serum-replete preincubation in both cells lines.


These data expand our knowledge of differences in ligand-stimulated signaling cascades between 5-HT2AR and 5-HT2CR. Our parallel assays can be applied to other cell and receptor systems for monitoring and dissecting concurrent signaling responses.

Serotonin; 5-HT2AR; 5-HT2CR; Intracellular calcium; pERK; Cell signaling