Single Cell Analysis of Reversibility of the Cell Death Program in Ethanol-Treated Neuronal PC12 Cells

Wenting You, Tos T J M Berendschot, Kèvin Knoops, Marc A M J van Zandvoort, Carroll A B Webers, Chris P M Reutelingsperger*, Theo G M F Gorgels*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Web of Science)


Neurodegenerative diseases are generally characterized clinically by the selective loss of a distinct subset of neurons and a slow progressive course. Mounting evidence in vivo indicates that large numbers of neurons pass through a long period of injury and dysfunction before the actual death of the cells. Whether these dying neurons can be rescued and return to a normal, functional state is uncertain. In the present study, we explored the reversibility of the neuronal cell death pathway at various stages by monitoring the dynamics of single cells with high-resolution live-cell spinning disk confocal microscopy in an in vitro neuronal cell death model. We exposed differentiated neuronal PC12 cells to ethanol as our cell death model. Results showed that exposure to 5% ethanol for 24 h induced cell death in >70% of the cells. Ethanol treatment for 3 h already induced cellular changes and damage such as reactive oxygen species generation, elevation of intracellular Ca 2+ level, phosphatidylserine exposure, nuclear shrinkage, DNA damage, mitochondrial fragmentation and membrane potential loss, and retraction of neurites. These phenomena are often associated with programmed cell death. Importantly, after removing ethanol and further culturing these damaged cells in fresh culture medium, cells recovered from all these cell injuries and generated new neurites. Moreover, results indicated that this recovery was not dependent on exogenous NGF and other growth factors in the cell culture medium. Overall, our results suggest that targeting dying neurons can be an effective therapeutic strategy in neurodegenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2650
Number of pages17
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • PC12 cells
  • PS exposure
  • cell death program
  • mitochondrial fragmentation
  • neurite regeneration
  • neurite retraction
  • nuclear shrinkage

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