Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

In vitro study of uptake and synthesis of creatine and its precursors by cerebellar granule cells and astrocytes suggests some hypotheses on the physiopathology of the inherited disorders of creatine metabolism

Claudia Carducci16, Carla Carducci1, Silvia Santagata1, Enrico Adriano2, Cristiana Artiola1, Stefano Thellung3, Elena Gatta4, Mauro Robello4, Tullio Florio4, Italo Antonozzi1, Vincenzo Leuzzi5* and Maurizio Balestrino2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Experimental Medicine, La Sapienza Università di Roma, Viale del Policlinico 155, Rome 00161, Italy

2 Department of Neuroscience, Ophthalmology and Genetics, University of Genova, Via De Toni, 5, Genoa 16132, Italy

3 Department of Oncology, Biology and Genetics, University of Genova, Largo Rosanna Benzi, 10, Genoa 16132, Italy

4 Department of Physics, University of Genova, Via Dodecaneso, 33, Genoa 16146, Italy

5 Dept of Child Neurology and Psychiatry, La Sapienza Università di Roma, Via dei Sabelli 108, Rome 00185, Italy

6 Department of Molecular Medicine, La Sapienza Università di Roma, Viale Regina Elena 324, Rome 00161, Italy

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BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:41  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-41

Published: 26 April 2012



The discovery of the inherited disorders of creatine (Cr) synthesis and transport in the last few years disclosed the importance of blood Cr supply for the normal functioning of the brain. These putatively rare diseases share a common pathogenetic mechanism (the depletion of brain Cr) and similar phenotypes characterized by mental retardation, language disturbances, seizures and movement disorders. In the effort to improve our knowledge on the mechanisms regulating Cr pool inside the nervous tissue, Cr transport and synthesis and related gene transcripts were explored in primary cultures of rat cerebellar granule cells and astrocytes.


Cr uptake and synthesis were explored in vitro by incubating monotypic primary cultures of rat type I astrocytes and cerebellar granule cells with: a) D3-Creatine (D3Cr) and D3Cr plus β-guanidinopropionate (GPA, an inhibitor of Cr transporter), and b) labelled precursors of Guanidinoacetate (GAA) and Cr (Arginine, Arg; Glycine, Gly). Intracellular D3Cr and labelled GAA and Cr were assessed by ESI-MS/MS. Creatine transporter (CT1), L-arginine:glycine amidinotransferase (AGAT), and S-adenosylmethionine:guanidinoacetate N-methyltransferase (GAMT) gene expression was assessed in the same cells by real time PCR.


D3Cr signal was extremely high in cells incubated with this isotope (labelled/unlabelled Cr ratio reached about 10 and 122, respectively in cerebellar granule cells and astrocytes) and was reduced by GPA. Labelled Arg and Gly were taken up by the cells and incorporated in GAA, whose concentration paralleled that of these precursors both in the extracellular medium and inside the cells (astrocytes). In contrast, the increase of labelled Cr was relatively much more limited since labelled Cr after precursors' supplementation did not exceed 2,7% (cerebellar granule cells) and 21% (astrocytes) of unlabelled Cr. Finally, AGAT, GAMT and SLC6A8 were expressed in both kind of cells.


Our results confirm that both neurons and astrocytes have the capability to synthesize and uptake Cr, and suggest that at least in vitro intracellular Cr can increase to a much greater extent through uptake than through de novo synthesis. Our results are compatible with the clinical observations that when the Cr transporter is defective, intracellular Cr is absent despite the brain should be able to synthesize it. Further research is needed to fully understand to what extent our results reflect the in vivo situation.

L-arginine:glycine amidinotransferase (AGAT); Creatine transporter (CT1); S-adenosylmethionine: guanidinoacetate N-methyltransferase (GAMT); Energetic metabolism in CNS; Mass spectrometry; Creatine transporter gene (SLC6A8)