Dopaminergic Phenotype Induced by Oestrogens in a Human Neuroblastoma Cell Line



Oestrogens are the key factor in the sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain and play an important role in the activity of selected areas of the mature brain. To pursue the study of oestrogen action on neural cells at the molecular level, we developed a human neuroblastoma cell line (SK-ER3) expressing the oestrogen receptor (ER). Treatment of these cells with 17β-oestradiol causes growth arrest and morphological and biochemical differentiation. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether oestrogen-differentiated SK-ER3 neuroblastoma cells acquire the ability to synthesize a specific neurotransmitter and whether the growth arrest previously reported can be ascribed to the blockage of the cells at a specific stage of the cell cycle. The results presented here indicate that oestrogens induce accumulation of SK-ER3 cells in the GO phase of the cell cycle, underscoring the acquisition of a mature neural phenotype upon hormonal treatment. Most importantly, we show that in the differentiated cells the content of tyrosine hydroxylase and Na+-dependent dopamine uptake is significantly augmented, proving that the oestrogen-differentiated SK-ER3 cells can synthesize and store a specific neurotransmitter. In addition, we prove that the dopamine accumulated in differentiated SK-ER3 cells can be released. These studies therefore suggest that oestrogen treatment results in the acquisition of a fully functional dopaminergic phenotype of SK-ER3 cells. Ample evidence shows a link between dopaminergic neurons and oestrogen activity in hypothalamic and non-hypothalamic areas of the mammalian brain. Our study indicates that oestrogens might play a primary role in committing undifferentiated neuroblasts towards the dopaminergic phenotype.