Ückert, Anna-Katharina

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Human neuronal signaling and communication assays to assess functional neurotoxicity

2021-01, Loser, Dominik, Schaefer, Jasmin, Danker, Timm, Möller, Clemens, Brüll, Markus, Suciu, Ilinca, Ückert, Anna-Katharina, Klima, Stefanie, Leist, Marcel, Kraushaar, Udo

Prediction of drug toxicity on the human nervous system still relies mainly on animal experiments. Here, we developed an alternative system allowing assessment of complex signaling in both individual human neurons and on the network level. The LUHMES cultures used for our approach can be cultured in 384-well plates with high reproducibility. We established here high-throughput quantification of free intracellular Ca2+ concentrations [Ca2+]i as broadly applicable surrogate of neuronal activity and verified the main processes by patch clamp recordings. Initially, we characterized the expression pattern of many neuronal signaling components and selected the purinergic receptors to demonstrate the applicability of the [Ca2+]i signals for quantitative characterization of agonist and antagonist responses on classical ionotropic neurotransmitter receptors. This included receptor sub-typing and the characterization of the anti-parasitic drug suramin as modulator of the cellular response to ATP. To exemplify potential studies on ion channels, we characterized voltage-gated sodium channels and their inhibition by tetrodotoxin, saxitoxin and lidocaine, as well as their opening by the plant alkaloid veratridine and the food-relevant marine biotoxin ciguatoxin. Even broader applicability of [Ca2+]i quantification as an end point was demonstrated by measurements of dopamine transporter activity based on the membrane potential-changing activity of this neurotransmitter carrier. The substrates dopamine or amphetamine triggered [Ca2+]i oscillations that were synchronized over the entire culture dish. We identified compounds that modified these oscillations by interfering with various ion channels. Thus, this new test system allows multiple types of neuronal signaling, within and between cells, to be assessed, quantified and characterized for their potential disturbance.


Design and evaluation of bi-functional iron chelators for protection of dopaminergic neurons from toxicants

2020-09, Gutbier, Simon, Kyriakou, Sotiris, Schildknecht, Stefan, Ückert, Anna-Katharina, Brüll, Markus, Lewis, Frank, Dickens, David, Pearson, Liam, Elson, Joanna L., Leist, Marcel

While the etiology of non-familial Parkinson’s disease (PD) remains unclear, there is evidence that increased levels of tissue iron may be a contributing factor. Moreover, exposure to some environmental toxicants is considered an additional risk factor. Therefore, brain-targeted iron chelators are of interest as antidotes for poisoning with dopaminergic toxicants, and as potential treatment of PD. We, therefore, designed a series of small molecules with high affinity for ferric iron and containing structural elements to allow their transport to the brain via the neutral amino acid transporter, LAT1 (SLC7A5). Five candidate molecules were synthesized and initially characterized for protection from ferroptosis in human neurons. The promising hydroxypyridinone SK4 was characterized further. Selective iron chelation within the physiological range of pH values and uptake by LAT1 were confirmed. Concentrations of 10–20 µM blocked neurite loss and cell demise triggered by the parkinsonian neurotoxicants, methyl-phenyl-pyridinium (MPP+) and 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) in human dopaminergic neuronal cultures (LUHMES cells). Rescue was also observed when chelators were given after the toxicant. SK4 derivatives that either lacked LAT1 affinity or had reduced iron chelation potency showed altered activity in our assay panel, as expected. Thus, an iron chelator was developed that revealed neuroprotective properties, as assessed in several models. The data strongly support the role of iron in dopaminergic neurotoxicity and suggests further exploration of the proposed design strategy for improving brain iron chelation.