Blue light-induced gene expression alterations in cultured neurons are the result of phototoxic interactions with neuronal culture media

Academic Article


  • Blue waveform light is used as an optical actuator in numerous optogenetic technologies employed in neuronal systems. However, the potential side effects of blue waveform light in neurons has not been thoroughly explored, and recent reports suggest that neuronal exposure to blue light can induce transcriptional alterations in vitro and in vivo . Here, we examined the effects of blue waveform light in cultured primary rat cortical neurons. Exposure to blue light (470nm) resulted in upregulation of several immediate early genes (IEGs) traditionally used as markers of neuronal activity, including Fos and Fosb , but did not alter the expression of circadian clock genes Bmal1 , Cry1 , Cry2 , Clock , or Per2 . IEG expression was increased following 4 hours of 5% duty cycle light exposure, and IEG induction was not dependent on light pulse width. Elevated levels of blue light exposure induced a loss of cell viability in vitro , suggestive of overt phototoxicity. Changes in gene expression induced by blue waveform light were prevented when neurons were cultured in a photoinert media supplemented with a photostable neuronal supplement instead of commonly utilized neuronal culture media and supplements. Together, these findings suggest that light-induced gene expression alterations observed in vitro stem from a phototoxic interaction between commonly used media and neurons, and offer a solution to prevent this toxicity when using photoactivatable technology in vitro .
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  • Duke C; Savell K; Phillips R; Day J