Fine ultrastructure and biochemistry of PC12 cells: A comparative approach to understand neurotoxicity

Francesco Fornai, Paola Lenzi, Gloria Lazzeri, Michela Ferrucci, Federica Fulceri, Filippo S. Giorgi, Alessandra Falleni, Stefano Ruggieri, Antonio Paparelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The PC12 cell line is commonly used as a tool to understand the biochemical mechanisms underlying the physiology and degeneration of central dopamine neurons. Despite the broad use of this cell line, there are a number of points differing between PC12 cells and dopamine neurons in vivo which are missed out when translating in vitro data into in vivo systems. This led us to compare the PC12 cells with central dopamine neurons, aiming at those features which are predictors of in vivo physiology and degeneration of central dopamine neurons. We carried out this comparison, either in baseline conditions, following releasing or neurotoxic stimuli (i.e. acute or chronic methamphetamine), to end up with therapeutic agents which are suspected to produce neurotoxicity (l-DOPA). Although the neurotransmitter pattern of PC12 cells is close to dopamine neurons, ultrastructural morphometry demonstrates that, in baseline conditions, PC12 cells possess very low vesicles density, which parallels low catecholamine levels. Again, compartmentalization of secretory elements in PC12 cells is already pronounced in baseline conditions, while it is only slightly affected following catecholamine-releasing stimuli. This low flexibility is caused by the low ability of PC12 cells to compensate for sustained catecholamine release, due both to non-sufficient dopamine synthesis and poor dopamine storage mechanisms. This contrasts markedly with dopamine-containing neurons in vivo lending substance to opposite findings between these compartments concerning the sensitivity to a number of neurotoxins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-190
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 19 2007


  • l-DOPA toxicity
  • Methamphetamine
  • Neurotransmitter release
  • Vesicle polarization
  • Vesicle trafficking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Biology

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