Hippocampal neural stem cells are more susceptible to the neurotoxin BMAA than primary neurons: effects on apoptosis, cellular differentiation, neurite outgrowth, and DNA methylation.

Research paper by Paula P Pierozan, Daiane D Cattani, Oskar O Karlsson

Indexed on: 27 Oct '20Published on: 26 Oct '20Published in: Cell Death & Disease


Developmental exposure to the environmental neurotoxin β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA), a proposed risk factor for neurodegenerative disease, can induce long-term cognitive impairments and neurodegeneration in rats. While rodent studies have demonstrated a low transfer of BMAA to the adult brain, this toxin is capable to cross the placental barrier and accumulate in the fetal brain. Here, we investigated the differential susceptibility of primary neuronal cells and neural stem cells from fetal rat hippocampus to BMAA toxicity. Exposure to 250 µM BMAA induced cell death in neural stem cells through caspase-independent apoptosis, while the proliferation of primary neurons was reduced only at 3 mM BMAA. At the lowest concentrations tested (50 and 100 µM), BMAA disrupted neural stem cell differentiation and impaired neurite development in neural stem cell-derived neurons (e.g., reduced neurite length, the number of processes and branches per cell). BMAA induced no alterations of the neurite outgrowth in primary neurons. This demonstrates that neural stem cells are more susceptible to BMAA exposure than primary neurons. Importantly, the changes induced by BMAA in neural stem cells were mitotically inherited to daughter cells. The persistent nature of the BMAA-induced effects may be related to epigenetic alterations that interfere with the neural stem cell programming, as BMAA exposure reduced the global DNA methylation in the cells. These findings provide mechanistic understanding of how early-life exposure to BMAA may lead to adverse long-term consequences, and potentially predispose for neurodevelopmental disorders or neurodegenerative disease later in life.