Disparate effects of serum on basal and evoked NFAT activity in primary astrocyte cultures

Jennifer L. Furman, Irina A. Artiushin, Christopher M. Norris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


In astrocytes, the Ca2+-dependent protein phosphatase calcineurin (CN) strongly regulates neuro-immune/inflammatory cascades through activation of the transcription factor, nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT). While primary cell cultures provide a useful model system for investigating astrocytic CN/NFAT signaling, variable results may arise both within and across labs because of differences in culture conditions. Here, we determined the extent to which serum and cell confluency affect basal and evoked astrocytic NFAT activity in primary cortical astrocyte cultures. Cells were grown to either ∼50% or >90% confluency, pre-loaded with an NFAT-luciferase reporter construct, and maintained for 16 h in medium with or without 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS). NFAT-dependent luciferase expression was then measured 5 h after treatment with vehicle alone to assess basal NFAT activity, or with Ca2+ mobilizers and IL-1β to assess evoked activity. The results revealed significantly higher levels of basal NFAT activity in FBS-containing medium, regardless of cell confluency. Conversely, evoked NFAT activation was significantly lower in serum-containing medium, with an even greater inhibition observed in confluent cultures. Application of 10% FBS to serum-free astrocyte cultures quickly evoked a roughly seven-fold increase in NFAT activity that was significantly reduced by co-delivery of neutralizing agents for IL-1β, TNFα, and/or IFNγ, suggesting that serum occludes evoked NFAT activation through a cytokine-based mechanism. Together, the results demonstrate that the presence of serum and cell confluency have a major impact on CN/NFAT signaling in primary astrocyte cultures and therefore must be taken into consideration when using this model system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-369
Number of pages5
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 29 2010


  • Astrocyte
  • Calcineurin
  • Confluency
  • NFAT
  • Primary culture
  • Serum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)


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