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Concept: Cell culture


Exposure to thirdhand smoke (THS) is a newly described health risk. Evidence supports its widespread presence in indoor environments. However, its genotoxic potential, a critical aspect in risk assessment, is virtually untested. An important characteristic of THS is its ability to undergo chemical transformations during aging periods, as demonstrated in a recent study showing that sorbed nicotine reacts with the indoor pollutant nitrous acid (HONO) to form tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) such as 4-(methylnitrosamino)-4-(3-pyridyl)butanal (NNA) and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK). The goal of this study was to assess the genotoxicity of THS in human cell lines using two in vitro assays. THS was generated in laboratory systems that simulated short (acute)- and long (chronic)-term exposures. Analysis by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry quantified TSNAs and common tobacco alkaloids in extracts of THS that had sorbed onto cellulose substrates. Exposure of human HepG2 cells to either acute or chronic THS for 24h resulted in significant increases in DNA strand breaks in the alkaline Comet assay. Cell cultures exposed to NNA alone showed significantly higher levels of DNA damage in the same assay. NNA is absent in freshly emitted secondhand smoke, but it is the main TSNA formed in THS when nicotine reacts with HONO long after smoking takes place. The long amplicon-quantitative PCR assay quantified significantly higher levels of oxidative DNA damage in hypoxanthine phosphoribosyltransferase 1 (HPRT) and polymerase β (POLB) genes of cultured human cells exposed to chronic THS for 24h compared with untreated cells, suggesting that THS exposure is related to increased oxidative stress and could be an important contributing factor in THS-mediated toxicity. The findings of this study demonstrate for the first time that exposure to THS is genotoxic in human cell lines.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cell, Chromosome, Smoking, Tobacco, Cell culture, Mutagen


In this study, we have generated and characterized Electronic Cigarette (EC) aerosols using a combination of advanced technologies. In the gas phase, the particle number concentration (PNC) of EC aerosols was found to be positively correlated with puff duration whereas the PNC and size distribution may vary with different flavors and nicotine strength. In the liquid phase (water or cell culture media), the size of EC nanoparticles appeared to be significantly larger than those in the gas phase, which might be due to aggregation of nanoparticles in the liquid phase. By using in vitro high-throughput cytotoxicity assays, we have demonstrated that EC aerosols significantly decrease intracellular levels of glutathione in NHOKs in a dose-dependent fashion resulting in cytotoxicity. These findings suggest that EC aerosols cause cytotoxicity to oral epithelial cells in vitro, and the underlying molecular mechanisms may be or at least partially due to oxidative stress induced by toxic substances (e.g., nanoparticles and chemicals) present in EC aerosols.

Concepts: Cell biology, Water, Oxidative stress, Cell culture, Cytotoxicity, Emulsion, Supercooling, Phases of matter


Common recommendations for cell line authentication, annotation and quality control fall short addressing genetic heterogeneity. Within the Human Toxome Project, we demonstrate that there can be marked cellular and phenotypic heterogeneity in a single batch of the human breast adenocarcinoma cell line MCF-7 obtained directly from a cell bank that are invisible with the usual cell authentication by short tandem repeat (STR) markers. STR profiling just fulfills the purpose of authentication testing, which is to detect significant cross-contamination and cell line misidentification. Heterogeneity needs to be examined using additional methods. This heterogeneity can have serious consequences for reproducibility of experiments as shown by morphology, estrogenic growth dose-response, whole genome gene expression and untargeted mass-spectroscopy metabolomics for MCF-7 cells. Using Comparative Genomic Hybridization (CGH), differences were traced back to genetic heterogeneity already in the cells from the original frozen vials from the same ATCC lot, however, STR markers did not differ from ATCC reference for any sample. These findings underscore the need for additional quality assurance in Good Cell Culture Practice and cell characterization, especially using other methods such as CGH to reveal possible genomic heterogeneity and genetic drifts within cell lines.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Cell, Organism, Cell biology, Cell culture


Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) injury and cell death from glaucoma and other forms of optic nerve disease is a major cause of irreversible vision loss and blindness. Human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-derived RGCs could provide a source of cells for the development of novel therapeutic molecules as well as for potential cell-based therapies. In addition, such cells could provide insights into human RGC development, gene regulation, and neuronal biology. Here, we report a simple, adherent cell culture protocol for differentiation of hPSCs to RGCs using a CRISPR-engineered RGC fluorescent reporter stem cell line. Fluorescence-activated cell sorting of the differentiated cultures yields a highly purified population of cells that express a range of RGC-enriched markers and exhibit morphological and physiological properties typical of RGCs. Additionally, we demonstrate that aligned nanofiber matrices can be used to guide the axonal outgrowth of hPSC-derived RGCs for in vitro optic nerve-like modeling. Lastly, using this protocol we identified forskolin as a potent promoter of RGC differentiation.

Concepts: Nervous system, DNA, Stem cell, Cell biology, Cellular differentiation, Cell culture, Retina, Retinal ganglion cell


Time-lapse imaging is a powerful tool for studying cellular dynamics and cell behavior over long periods of time to acquire detailed functional information. However, commercially available time-lapse imaging systems are expensive and this has limited a broader implementation of this technique in low-resource environments. Further, the availability of time-lapse imaging systems often present workflow bottlenecks in well-funded institutions. To address these limitations we have designed a modular and affordable time-lapse imaging and incubation system (ATLIS). The ATLIS enables the transformation of simple inverted microscopes into live cell imaging systems using custom-designed 3D-printed parts, a smartphone, and off-the-shelf electronic components. We demonstrate that the ATLIS provides stable environmental conditions to support normal cell behavior during live imaging experiments in both traditional and evaporation-sensitive microfluidic cell culture systems. Thus, the system presented here has the potential to increase the accessibility of time-lapse microscopy of living cells for the wider research community.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Cell, Cell biology, Cytoplasm, Microscope, Cell culture, Design, Robert Hooke


The chemoprotective properties of sulforaphane (SF), derived from cruciferous vegetables, are widely acknowledged to arise from its potent induction of xenobiotic-metabolizing and antioxidant enzymes. However, much less is known about the impact of SF on the efficacy of cancer therapy through the modulation of drug-metabolizing enzymes. To identify proteins modulated by a low concentration of SF, we treated HT29 colon cancer cells with 2.5 μM SF. Protein abundance changes were detected by stable isotope labeling of amino acids in cell culture. Among 18 proteins found to be significantly up-regulated, aldo-keto reductase 1C3 (AKR1C3), bioactivating the DNA cross-linking prodrug PR-104A, was further characterized. Preconditioning HT29 cells with SF reduced the EC50 of PR-104A 3.6-fold. The increase in PR-104A cytotoxicity was linked to AKR1C3 abundance and activity, both induced by SF in a dose-dependent manner. This effect was reproducible in a second colon cancer cell line, SW620, but not in other colon cancer cell lines where AKR1C3 abundance and activity were absent or barely detectable and could not be induced by SF. Interestingly, SF had no significant influence on PR-104A cytotoxicity in non-cancerous, immortalized human colonic epithelial cell lines expressing either low or high levels of AKR1C3. In conclusion, the enhanced response of PR-104A after preconditioning with SF was apparent only in cancer cells provided that AKR1C3 is expressed, while its expression in non-cancerous cells did not elicit such a response. Therefore, a subset of cancers may be susceptible to combined food-derived component and prodrug treatments with no harm to normal tissues.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene expression, Cell, Cancer, Cell biology, Colorectal cancer, Cell culture


Blind mole rats Spalax (BMR) are small subterranean rodents common in the Middle East. BMR is distinguished by its adaptations to life underground, remarkable longevity (with a maximum documented lifespan of 21 y), and resistance to cancer. Spontaneous tumors have never been observed in spalacids. To understand the mechanisms responsible for this resistance, we examined the growth of BMR fibroblasts in vitro of the species Spalax judaei and Spalax golani. BMR cells proliferated actively for 7-20 population doublings, after which the cells began secreting IFN-β, and the cultures underwent massive necrotic cell death within 3 d. The necrotic cell death phenomenon was independent of culture conditions or telomere shortening. Interestingly, this cell behavior was distinct from that observed in another long-lived and cancer-resistant African mole rat, Heterocephalus glaber, the naked mole rat in which cells display hypersensitivity to contact inhibition. Sequestration of p53 and Rb proteins using SV40 large T antigen completely rescued necrotic cell death. Our results suggest that cancer resistance of BMR is conferred by massive necrotic response to overproliferation mediated by p53 and Rb pathways, and triggered by the release of IFN-β. Thus, we have identified a unique mechanism that contributes to cancer resistance of this subterranean mammal extremely adapted to life underground.

Concepts: Immune system, Apoptosis, Cell culture, Mammal, Naked mole rat, Blesmol


Research progress to understand the role of vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in human health has been slow in coming. This is predominantly the result of several flawed approaches to study design, often lacking a full appreciation of the redox chemistry and biology of ascorbic acid. In this review, we summarize our knowledge surrounding the limitations of common approaches used in vitamin C research. In human cell culture, the primary issues are the high oxygen environment, presence of redox-active transition metal ions in culture media, and the use of immortalized cell lines grown in the absence of supplemental ascorbic acid. Studies in animal models are also limited due to the presence of endogenous ascorbic acid synthesis. Despite the use of genetically altered rodent strains lacking synthesis capacity, there are additional concerns that these models do not adequately recapitulate the effects of vitamin C deprivation and supplementation observed in humans. Lastly, several flaws in study design endemic to randomized controlled trials and other human studies greatly limit their conclusions and impact. There also is anecdotal evidence of positive and negative health effects of vitamin C that are widely accepted but have not been substantiated. Only with careful attention to study design and experimental detail can we further our understanding of the possible roles of vitamin C in promoting human health and preventing or treating disease.

Concepts: Cell, Epidemiology, Nutrition, Cell culture, Zinc, Vitamin C, Transition metal, Ascorbic acid


Exosomes deliver functional proteins and genetic materials to neighboring cells, and have potential applications for tissue regeneration. One possible mechanism of exosome-promoted tissue regeneration is through the delivery of microRNA (miRNA). In this study, we hypothesized that exosomes derived from neuronal progenitor cells contain miRNAs that promote neuronal differentiation. We treated mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) daily with exosomes derived from PC12 cells, a neuronal cell line, for 1 week. After the treatment with PC12-derived exosomes, MSCs developed neuron-like morphology, and gene and protein expressions of neuronal markers were upregulated. Microarray analysis showed that the expression of miR-125b, which is known to play a role in neuronal differentiation of stem cells, was much higher in PC12-derived exosomes than in exosomes from B16-F10 melanoma cells. These results suggest that the delivery of miRNAs contained in PC12-derived exosomes is a possible mechanism explaining the neuronal differentiation of MSC.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Developmental biology, Stem cell, Cellular differentiation, Cell culture


Abstract Aggregation of metal oxide nanoparticles in aqueous media complicates interpretation of in vitro studies of nanoparticle-cell interactions. We used dynamic light scattering to investigate the aggregation dynamics of iron oxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles. Our results show that iron oxide particles aggregate more readily than zinc oxide particles. Pretreatment with serum stabilises iron oxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles against aggregation. Serum-treated iron oxide is stable only in pure water, while zinc oxide is stable in water or cell culture media. These findings, combined with zeta potential measurements and quantification of proteins adsorbed on particle surface, suggest that serum stabilisation of iron oxide particles occurs primarily through protein adsorption and resulting net surface charge. Zinc oxide stabilisation, however, also involves steric hindrance of particle aggregation. Fluid shear at levels used in flow experiments breaks up iron oxide particle aggregates. These results enhance our understanding of nanoparticle aggregation and its consequences for research on the biological effects of nanomaterials.

Concepts: Oxygen, Ultraviolet, Cell culture, Colloid, Oxides, Titanium dioxide, Zinc oxide, Colloidal chemistry