Assessment of ethanol-induced toxicity on iPSC-derived human dopaminergic neurons using a novel high-throughput mitochondrial neuronal health (MNH) assay


  • A. Zink
  • J. Conrad
  • N.S. Telugu
  • S. Diecke
  • A. Heinz
  • E. Wanker
  • J. Priller
  • A. Prigione


  • Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology


  • Front Cell Dev Biol 8: 590540


  • Excessive ethanol exposure can cause mitochondrial and cellular toxicity. In order to discover potential counteracting interventions, it is essential to develop assays capable of capturing the consequences of ethanol exposure in human neurons, and particularly dopaminergic neurons that are crucial for the development of alcohol use disorders (AUD). Here, we developed a novel high-throughput (HT) assay to quantify mitochondrial and neuronal toxicity in human dopaminergic neuron-containing cultures (DNs) from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). The assay, dubbed mitochondrial neuronal health (MNH) assay, combines live-cell measurement of mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP) with quantification of neuronal branching complexity post-fixation. Using the MNH assay, we demonstrated that chronic ethanol exposure in human iPSC-derived DNs decreases MMP and neuronal outgrowth in a dose-dependent manner. The toxic effect of ethanol on DNs was already detectable after 1 h of exposure, and occurred similarly in DNs derived from healthy individuals and from patients with AUD. We next used the MNH assay to carry out a proof-of-concept compound screening using FDA-approved drugs. We identified potential candidate compounds modulating acute ethanol toxicity in human DNs. We found that disulfiram and baclofen, which are used for AUD treatment, and lithium caused neurotoxicity also in the absence of ethanol, while the spasmolytic drug flavoxate positively influenced MNH. Altogether, we developed an HT assay to probe human MNH and used it to assess ethanol neurotoxicity and to identify modulating agents. The MNH assay represents an effective new tool for discovering modulators of MNH and toxicity in live human neurons.