We investigated Cu metabolism specifically in neurons in terms of changes in the intracellular Cu concentration and the expression of Cu-regulating genes, such as Cu transporters and metallothioneins (MTs), before and after the differentiation of rat pheochromocytoma cells (PC12 cells) into neurons. After the differentiation, Cu and Zn imaging with fluorescent probes revealed an increase in intracellular Cu concentration.
The concentrations of other essential metals, which were determined by an inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer, were not altered. The mRNA expression of the Cu influx transporter, Ctr1, was decreased after the differentiation, and the differentiated cells acquired tolerance to Cu and cisplatin, another substrate of Ctr1. In addition, the expression of MT-3, a brain-specific isoform, was increased, contrary to the decreased expression of MT-1 and MT-2. Taken together, the differentiation of PC12 cells into neurons induced MT-3 expression, thereby resulting in intracellular Cu accumulation. The decrease in Ctr1 expression was assumed to be a response aimed at abolishing the physiological accumulation of Cu after the differentiation.