The neurotransmitter serotonin (5HT) possesses developmental functions in vertebrates and invertebrates. Rodent embryos express 5HT receptors even before neural development, but the role of this neurochemical seems to be particularly important during axonal morphogenesis and differentiation and in neural crest cell migration. Moreover, 5HT inhibitors are teratogenic in mammals, inducing brain and heart abnormalities. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of nonphysiological concentrations of 5HT (5HT excess as well as deprivation) on developing rat neural cells using the micromass method. This simple and rapid micromass method allows the culture of mesencephalic cells capable of achieving and maintaining a significant degree of differentiation. Mesencephalic cells from 13 d post coitum (pc) rat were cultured and exposed to exogenous 5HT (1, 10, 50, or 100 μM) or to the specific 5HT2 receptor inhibitor mianserin (0.5, 5, 25, or 50 μM) during the whole culture period (5 d). The micromass morphology, the cytoskeletal organization, the pathological apoptosis, and the differentiative capability of cultured mesencephalic cells have been analyzed. The results show that 10–100 μM 5HT and 0.5–50 μM mianserin are able to disrupt the normal micromass morphology; 5HT and mianserin are unable to interfere with the cytoskeletal structures; mianserin (but not 5HT) induces pathological apoptosis on micromass cells at concentration levels of 0.5–50 μM; 5HT (but not mianserin) alters the neural differentiation at concentration levels of 10–100 μM. In conclusion, our results demonstrate that an excess of 5HT inhibits the capability of mesencephalic neurons to differentiate as shown by the alterations of the expression of the neuronal differentiative proteins glial-derived neurotrophic factor and Neu-N; on the other hand, the blocking of 5HT2 receptors induces apoptosis in differentiating neurons.
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Vol. 40 • No. 1