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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Human in vitro reporter model of neuronal development and early differentiation processes

Sebastien Couillard-Despres*, Eike Quehl, Katrin Altendorfer, Claudia Karl, Sonja Ploetz, Ulrich Bogdahn, Juergen Winkler and Ludwig Aigner

Author Affiliations

Department of Neurology, University of Regensburg, Universitätsstr. 84, 93053 Regensburg, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2008, 9:31  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-9-31

Published: 29 February 2008

Abstract

Background

During developmental and adult neurogenesis, doublecortin is an early neuronal marker expressed when neural stem cells assume a neuronal cell fate. To understand mechanisms involved in early processes of neuronal fate decision, we investigated cell lines for their capacity to induce expression of doublecortin upon neuronal differentiation and develop in vitro reporter models using doublecortin promoter sequences.

Results

Among various cell lines investigated, the human teratocarcinoma cell line NTERA-2 was found to fulfill our criteria. Following induction of differentiation using retinoic acid treatment, we observed a 16-fold increase in doublecortin mRNA expression, as well as strong induction of doublecortin polypeptide expression. The acquisition of a neuronal precursor phenotype was also substantiated by the establishment of a multipolar neuronal morphology and expression of additional neuronal markers, such as Map2, βIII-tubulin and neuron-specific enolase. Moreover, stable transfection in NTERA-2 cells of reporter constructs encoding fluorescent or luminescent genes under the control of the doublecortin promoter allowed us to directly detect induction of neuronal differentiation in cell culture, such as following retinoic acid treatment or mouse Ngn2 transient overexpression.

Conclusion

Induction of doublecortin expression in differentiating NTERA-2 cells suggests that these cells accurately recapitulate some of the very early events of neuronal determination. Hence, the use of reporter genes under the control of the doublecortin promoter in NTERA-2 cells will help us to investigate factors involved early in the course of neuronal differentiation processes. Moreover the ease to detect the induction of a neuronal program in this model will permit to perform high throughput screening for compounds acting on the early neuronal differentiation mechanisms.