A paradigm for examining toxicant effects on viability, structure, and axonal transport of neurons in culture

Daniel J. Brat, Stephen Brimijoin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


NIE.115 murine neuroblastoma cells differentiating in serum-free medium were used to develop a paradigm for testing neurotoxicity in vitro. The paradigm was designed to test the effects of toxicants on four different aspects of cell function or structure: 1. Viability as shown by the retention of cellular radiolabel (51Cr); 2. Growth and maintenance of neurites as reflected by the incidence and average length of these processes; 3. Gross structure of neurites; and 4. Velocity and flux of rapid anterograde and retrograde axonal transport as judged by video-enhanced differential interference contrast microscopy. To evaluate this paradigm, colchicine and vinblastine were used as neurotoxicants with a well-understood mechanism of action. These agents were only weakly cytotoxic according to the Cr-release assay, but were able to interfere with neurite outgrowth at nanomolar concentrations. Neurites that were elaborated in the presence of vinblastine and colchicine were often disfigured by numerous swellings packed with organelles. In established neurites, micromolar concentrations of vinblastine inhibited organellar motility with great rapidity, blocking all signs of transport within 20 min. The effect of colchicine was slower and less complete, but still impressive. We suggest that this four-part analysis represents a highly sensitive in vitro test for neurotoxicity, and a means of analyzing the relation between abnormalities of transport and structural damage of nerve cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-135
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Neurobiology
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jun 1992


  • Neurotoxicity
  • axonal transport
  • colchicine
  • neurite outgrowth
  • video microscopy
  • vinblastine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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