Therapeutic use of Chinese herbal medicines (CHMs) is a new approach to treat neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The detection of soma volume and neurite outgrowth of living neurons is a highly relevant biomarker related to various application fields, including therapy efficacy and drug safety evaluation. Through the use of digital holographic microscopy (DHM), we may evaluate the therapeutic effect of CHMs in curing neurodegeneration. Panax ginseng has been used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine for centuries. In this study, DHM is applied to monitor the three-dimensional morphology change of retinoic acid-induced human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells during Panax ginseng treatment. We demonstrate the capability of DHM to detect noninvasively SH-SY5Y cell apoptosis and rescue through the measurement of neuronal volume and neurite outgrowth regulation without any labeling reagent. Through DHM, we observed the phase images of the rapidly shrinking cells with decreasing soma volume and shortening neurite outgrowth during glutamate treatments. Then shrinkage in glutamate-induced cells is significantly alleviated during Panax ginseng treatment. The results through DHM are consistent with the result from MTT assay for assessing cell viability during Panax ginseng treatment. Thus, we suggest that application of DHM for measuring soma volume and neurite outgrowth of living neurons may be one appropriate therapeutic evaluation for CHMs.
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