Geometry of isolated sensory neurons in culture. Effects of embryonic age and culture substratum

D. Bray, M. B. Bunge, K. Chapman

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Sensory neurons were dissociated from lumbar dorsal root ganglia of embryonic chick and put into culture, either directly or after removing non-neuronal cells by density gradient centrifugation. The cells were grown on culture substrata of various kinds in medium containing nerve growth factor (NGF). After 24 h the cultures were fixed, mounted and analysed. Lengths of neurites were measured, and the numbers of primary processes formed at the cell body and of growth cones were counted. From these values, the rates of growth cone advance and frequency of growth cone branching were calculated. Neuronal outgrowths increased strikingly in length and complexity with embryonic age; there was a 3.5-fold increase in total neurite length and a 3-fold increase in the number of growth cones when neurons from 15-day embryos (E15) were compared with those from 8-day embryos (E8) grown on the same substratum (glass). Growth was markedly greater on surfaces prepared with laminin or conditioned medium compared with plain glass or airdried collagen. When E15 neurons grown on glass were compared with those grown on laminin, for example, a 2.5-fold increase in total neurite length and a 3-fold increase in the number of growth cones was observed. Calculations showed that a major factor in these changes was an increase in the frequency of growth cone branching. The number of initial processes emanating from the cell body changed with age, but not with the different substrata tested. Non-neuronal cells when present in low numbers and in contact with neurons did not appear to influence neuronal geometry in a systematic way. Our results document the fact that both external factors (in this case, the nature of the culture substratum) and intrinsic factors (stage of development of the neuron) can influence the geometry of neurite outgrowth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-137
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Cell Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1987


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology

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