Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a method for culturing mammalian neurons in chambers not much larger than the neurons themselves. The new approach extends the lifespan of the neurons at very low densities, an essential step toward developing a method for studying the growth and behavior of individual brain cells.
The technique is described this month in the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry Lab on a Chip.
This finding will be very positively greeted by the neuroscience community, said Martha Gillette, who is an author on the study and the head of the cell and developmental biology department at Illinois. This is pushing the limits of what you can do with neurons in culture.
Growing viable mammalian neurons at low density in an artificial environment is no easy task. Using postnatal neurons only adds to the challenge, Gillette said, because these cells are extremely sensitive to environmental conditions.
All neurons rely on a steady supply of proteins and other trophic factors present in the extracellular fluid. These factors are secreted by the neurons themselves or by support cells, such as the glia. This is why neurons tend to do best when grown at high density and in the presence of other brain cells. But a dense or complex mixture of cells complicates the task of characterizing the behavior of individual neurons.
One technique for keeping neural cultures alive is to grow the cells in a medium that contains serum, or blood plasma. This increases the viability of cells grown at low density, but it also contaminates the culture, making it difficult to determine which substances were produced by the cells and which came from the serum.
Those hoping to understand the cellular origins of trophic factors in the brain would benefit from a technique that allows them to measure the chemical outputs of individual cells. The research team made progress toward this goal by addressi
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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign