King's College London

Research portal

Cholinergic Differentiation of Human Neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y Cell Line and Its Potential Use as an In vitro Model for Alzheimer’s Disease Studies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Liana M. de Medeiros, Marco A. De Bastiani, Eduardo P. Rico, Patrícia Schonhofen, Bianca Pfaffenseller, Bianca Wollenhaupt-Aguiar, Lucas Grun, Florência Barbé-Tuana, Eduardo R. Zimmer, Mauro A.A. Castro, Richard B. Parsons, Fábio Klamt

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7355-7367
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Neurobiology
Issue number11
Published1 Nov 2019

King's Authors


Cholinergic transmission is critical to high-order brain functions such as memory, learning, and attention. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by cognitive decline associated with a specific degeneration of cholinergic neurons. No effective treatment to prevent or reverse the symptoms is known. Part of this might be due to the lack of in vitro models that effectively mimic the relevant features of AD. Here, we describe the characterization of an AD in vitro model using the SH-SY5Y cell line. Exponentially growing cells were maintained in DMEM/F12 medium and differentiation was triggered by the combination of retinoic acid (RA) and BDNF. Both acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) enzymatic activities and immunocontent were determined. For mimicking tau and amyloid-β pathology, RA + BDNF-differentiated cells were challenged with okadaic acid (OA) or soluble oligomers of amyloid-β (AβOs) and neurotoxicity was evaluated. RA + BDNF-induced differentiation resulted in remarkable neuronal morphology alterations characterized by increased neurite density. Enhanced expression and enzymatic activities of cholinergic markers were observed compared to RA-differentiation only. Combination of sublethal doses of AβOs and OA resulted in decreased neurite densities, an in vitro marker of synaptopathy. Challenging RA + BDNF-differentiated SH-SY5Y cells with the combination of sublethal doses of OA and AβO, without causing considerable decrease of cell viability, provides an in vitro model which mimics the early-stage pathophysiology of cholinergic neurons affected by AD.

View graph of relations

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454