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Arch Toxicol. 2013 Apr;87(4):721-33. doi: 10.1007/s00204-012-0984-2. Epub 2012 Dec 2.

A 3-dimensional human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived model to detect developmental neurotoxicity of nanoparticles.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Konstanz, Universitaetsstrasse 10, 78457 Konstanz, Germany.


Nanoparticles (NPs) have been shown to accumulate in organs, cross the blood-brain barrier and placenta, and have the potential to elicit developmental neurotoxicity (DNT). Here, we developed a human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived 3-dimensional (3-D) in vitro model that allows for testing of potential developmental neurotoxicants. Early central nervous system PAX6(+) precursor cells were generated from hESCs and differentiated further within 3-D structures. The 3-D model was characterized for neural marker expression revealing robust differentiation toward neuronal precursor cells, and gene expression profiling suggested a predominantly forebrain-like development. Altered neural gene expression due to exposure to non-cytotoxic concentrations of the known developmental neurotoxicant, methylmercury, indicated that the 3-D model could detect DNT. To test for specific toxicity of NPs, chemically inert polyethylene NPs (PE-NPs) were chosen. They penetrated deep into the 3-D structures and impacted gene expression at non-cytotoxic concentrations. NOTCH pathway genes such as HES5 and NOTCH1 were reduced in expression, as well as downstream neuronal precursor genes such as NEUROD1 and ASCL1. FOXG1, a patterning marker, was also reduced. As loss of function of these genes results in severe nervous system impairments in mice, our data suggest that the 3-D hESC-derived model could be used to test for Nano-DNT.

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