Effects of cytokines on nuclear factor-kappa B, cell viability, and synaptic connectivity in a human neuronal cell line

Lauren Matelski, Rhianna K. Morgan, Ana Cristina Grodzki, Judy Van de Water, Pamela J. Lein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Maternal infection during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs). Experimental animal models demonstrate that maternal immune activation (MIA) elevates inflammatory cytokine levels in the maternal and fetal compartments and causes behavioral changes in offspring. Individual cytokines have been shown to modulate neurite outgrowth and synaptic connectivity in cultured rodent neurons, but whether clinically relevant cytokine mixtures similarly modulate neurodevelopment in human neurons is not known. To address this, we quantified apoptosis, neurite outgrowth, and synapse number in the LUHMES human neuronal cell line exposed to varying concentrations of: (1) a mixture of 12 cytokines and chemokines (EMA) elevated in mid-gestational serum samples from mothers of children with autism and intellectual disability; (2) an inflammatory cytokine mixture (ICM) comprised of five cytokines elevated in experimental MIA models; or (3) individual cytokines in ICM. At concentrations that activated nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB) in LUHMES cells, EMA and ICM induced caspase-3/7 activity. ICM altered neurite outgrowth, but only at concentrations that also reduced cell viability, whereas ICM reduced synapse number independent of changes in cell viability. Individual cytokines in ICM phenocopied the effects of ICM on NF-κB activation and synaptic connectivity, but did not completely mimic the effects of ICM on apoptosis. These results demonstrate that clinically relevant cytokine mixtures modulate apoptosis and synaptic density in developing human neurons. Given the relevance of these neurodevelopmental processes in NDDs, our findings support the hypothesis that cytokines contribute to the adverse effects of MIA on children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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