Profiling of Human Neural Crest Chemoattractant Activity as a Replacement of Fetal Bovine Serum for In Vitro Chemotaxis Assays

International Journal of Molecular Sciences
Dolde Xenia, Karreman Christiaan, Wiechers Marianne, Schildknecht Stefan, Leist Marcel
DOI: 10.3390/ijms221810079
PMID: 34576243
Keyword: Cell migration · Chemotaxis · Fetal bovine serum · Human platelet lysate · Neural crest cells


Fetal bovine serum (FBS) is the only known stimulus for the migration of human neural crest cells (NCCs). Non-animal chemoattractants are desirable for the optimization of chemotaxis as-says to be incorporated in a test battery for reproductive and developmental toxicity. We con-firmed here in an optimized transwell assay that FBS triggers directed migration along a con-centration gradient. The responsible factor was found to be a protein in the 30-100 kDa size range. In a targeted approach, we tested a large panel of serum constituents known to be chem-otactic for NCCs in animal models (e.g., VEGF, PDGF, FGF, SDF-1/CXCL12, ephrins, endothelin, Wnt, BMPs). None of the corresponding human proteins showed any effect in our chemotaxis assays based on human NCCs. We then examined, whether human cells would produce any fac-tor able to trigger NCC migration in a broad screening approach. We found that HepG2 hepa-toma cells produced chemotaxis-triggering activity (CTA). Using chromatographic methods and by employing the NCC chemotaxis test as bioassay, the responsible protein was enriched by up to 5000-fold. We also explored human serum and platelets as a direct source, independent of any cell culture manipulations. A CTA was enriched from platelet lysates several thousand-fold. Its temperature and protease sensitivity suggested also a protein component. The capacity of this factor to trigger chemotaxis was confirmed by single-cell video-tracking analysis of migrating NCCs. The human CTA characterized here may be employed in the future for the setup of assays testing for the disturbance of directed NCC migration by toxicants.