Evaluating the potential neurotoxicity of hexanedione isomers
: an in vitro approach

  • Thomas R. Zilz

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


2,5-hexanedione (2,5HD) is the neurotoxic metabolite of the aliphatic hydrocarbon n-Hexane. The isomers, 2,3-hexanedione (2,3HD) and 3,4-hexanedione (3,4HD) are used as food additives. Although the neurotoxicity of 2,5HD is well established, there are no human data of the possible toxicity of the 2,3- and 3,4- isomers.
MTT and flow cytometry were utilised to determine the cytotoxicity of hexanedione isomers in neuroblastoma cells. The neuroblastoma cell lines SK-N-SH and SH-SY5Y are sufficiently neuron-like to provide preliminary assessment of the neurotoxic potential of these isomers, in comparison with toxicity towards human non-neuronal cells.
Initial studies showed that 2,5HD was the least toxic in all cell lines at all times (4, 24 and 48h). Although considerably lower than for 2,5HD, in general the IC50s for the α isomers were not significantly different from each other and, besides 4h exposure, the SH-SY5Y cells were significantly more sensitive to 2,3HD and 3,4HD than the SK-N-SH cells. All three isomers caused varying degrees of apoptosis in the neuroblastoma lines, with 3,4HD more potent than 2,3HD. Flow cytometry highlighted cell cycle arrest indicative of DNA damage with 2,3- and 3,4HD.
The toxicity of the isomers towards 3 non-neuronal cell lines (MCF7, HepG2 and CaCo-2) was assessed by MTT assay. All 3 hexanedione isomers proved to be cytotoxic in all non-neuronal cell lines at all time points.
These data suggest cytotoxicity of 2,3- and 3,4HD (mM range), but it is difficult to define this as specific neurotoxicity in the absence of specific neurotoxic endpoints. However, the neuroblastomas were significantly more susceptible to the cytotoxic effects of the α hexanedione isomers at exposures of 4 and 24 hours, compared to non-neuronal lines.
Finally, a mechanism of toxicity is suggested for the α HD isomers whereby inhibition of the oxoglutarate carrier (OGC) releases apoptosis inducing factor (AIF), causing apoptosis-like cell death.
Date of AwardFeb 2008
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMichael Coleman (Supervisor)


  • apoptosis
  • cytotoxicity
  • flow cytometry
  • hexanedione
  • MTT

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