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J Neurosci. 1995 Sep;15(9):6167-78.

Induction of a serotonergic and neuronal phenotype in thyroid C-cells.

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Molecular Biology Program, University of Iowa, Iowa City 52242, USA.


We have investigated whether rat thyroid C-cells can acquire a phenotype similar to serotonergic neurons. C-cells are neural crest derived endocrine cells with some intrinsic neuronal and serotonergic properties. A relatively simple isolation scheme yielded cultures of about 50% initial purity, as measured by fluorescence activated cell sorting. These enriched C-cells could extend neurites up to 550 microns on a laminin-containing substratum in the presence of NGF. The cultured C-cells expressed neurofilaments and this expression was enhanced by NGF treatment. The C-cells also expressed two markers of the sympathoadrenal neural crest lineage, the mammalian achaete scute homolog-1 (MASH-1) transcription factor, and the B2 cell surface antigen. Interestingly, MASH-1 was not detectable after the C-cells were placed in culture, which is consistent with neuronal differentiation, since MASH-1 is only expressed in neuronal progenitors prior to differentiation. We then demonstrated that C-cells possess the fundamental features of serotonergic neurons: synthesis and secretion, uptake, and feedback control. The enriched C-cells, as well as the CA77 C-cell line, showed 5-HT immunostaining, expression of tryptophan hydroxylase mRNA, 5-HT1B autoreceptor mRNA, and 5-HT transporter mRNA and activity. NGF greatly induced 5-HT transporter activity as determined by sensitivity to sertraline, a selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitor. Based on these results, we propose that thyroid C-cells are derived from a vagal sympathoadrenal progenitor, similar to serotonergic enteric neurons, and can undergo neuronal transdifferentiation. Hence, these cells should provide suitable and convenient models for molecular and cellular studies on serotonergic neurons.

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