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 addressing a few key obstacles.
First, the researchers scaled down the size of the fluid-filled chambers used to hold the cells. Chemistry graduate student Matthew Stewart made the small chambers out of a molded gel of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS). The reduced chamber size also reduced – by several orders of magnitude – the amount of fluid around the cells, said Biotechnology Center director Jonathan Sweedler, an author on the study. This “miniaturization of experimental architectures” will make it easier to identify and measure the substances released by the cells, because these “releasates” are less dilute.
“If you bring the walls in and you make an environment that’s cell-sized, the channels now are such that you’re constraining the releasates to physiological concentrations, even at the level of a single cell,” Sweedler said.
Second, the researchers increased the purity of the material used to form the chambers. Cell and developmental biology graduate student Larry Millet exposed the PDMS to a series of chemical baths to extract impurities that were killing the cells.
Millet also developed a method for gradually perfusing the neurons with serum-free media, a technique that resupplies depleted nutrients and removes cellular waste products. The perfusion technique also allows the researchers to collect and analyze other cellular secretions – a key to identifying the biochemical contributions of individual cells.
“We know there are factors that are communicated in the media between the cells,” Millet said. “The question is what are they, and how can we get at those?”
This combination of techniques enabled the research team to grow postnatal primary hippocampal neurons from rats for up to 11 days at extremely low densities. Prior to this work, cultured neurons in closed-channel devices made of untreated, native PDMS remained viable for two days at best.
The cultured neurons also developed more axons and dendrites, the neural tendrils that communicate with other cells, than those grown at low densities with conventional techniques, Gillette said.
“Not only have we increased the cells’ viability, we’ve also increased their ability to differentiate into what looks much more like a mature neuron,” she said.
Sweedler noted that the team’s successes are the result of a unique collaboration among scientists with very different backgrounds.
“(Materials science and engineering professor) Ralph Nuzzo is one of the pioneers in self-assembled monolayers and surface chemistry,” Sweedler said. “Martha Gillette’s expertise is in understanding how these neurons grow, and in imaging them. My lab does measurement science on a very small scale. It’s almost impossible for any one lab to do all that.”
Nuzzo and Sweedler are William H. and Janet Lycan professors of chemistry. Gillette is Alumni Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. All are appointed in the Institute for Genomic Biology. Sweedler and Gillette are affiliates of the Beckman Institute and the Neuroscience Program. Sweedler is a professor in the Bioengineering Program and Gillette in the College of Medicine.
To view or subscribe to the RSS feed for Science News at Illinois, please go to: http://webtools.uiuc.edu/rssManager/608/rss.xml.Editor’s note: To reach Martha Gillette, call 217-244-1355; e-mail: mailto:email@example.com.
Diana Yates | University of Illinois
North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich
Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein
22.03.2018 | Universität Basel
An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.
In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
13.03.2018 | Event News
22.03.2018 | Trade Fair News
22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences
22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences