Alzheimer's disease, Amyloid beta protein, Hippocampus (Brain), Neurons, Microelectrode array, Two cell in vitro network


Neuronal culture systems have many applications, such as basic research into neuronal structure, function, and connectivity as well as research into diseases, conditions, and injuries affecting the brain and its components. In vitro dissociated neuronal systems have typically been derived from embryonic brain tissue, most commonly from the hippocampus of E18 rats. This practice has been motivated by difficulties in supporting regeneration, functional recovery and long-term survival of adult neurons in vitro. The overall focus of this dissertation research was to develop a dissociated neuronal culture system from human and animal adult brain tissue, one more functionally and developmentally correlative to the mature brain. To that end, this work was divided into five interrelated topics: development of an adult in vitro neuronal culture system comprised of electrically functional, mitotically stable, developmentally mature neurons from the hippocampus of adult rats; creation of stable two-cell neuronal networks for the study of synaptic communication in vitro; coupling of electrically active adult neurons to microelectrode arrays for high-throughput data collection and analysis; identification of inadequacies in embryonic neuronal culture systems and proving that adult neuronal culture systems were not deficient in similar areas; augmentation of the rat hippocampal culture system to allow for the culture and maintenance of electrically active human neurons for months in vitro. The overall hypothesis for this dissertation project was that tissue engineered in vitro systems comprised of neurons dissociated from mature adult brain tissue could be developed using microfabrication, defined medium formulations, optimized culture and maintenance parameters, and cell-cycle control. Mature differentiated glutamatergic neurons were extracted from hippocampal brain tissue and processed to purify neurons and remove tissue debris. Terminally differentiated rat hippocampal neurons recovered in vitro and displayed mature neuronal morphology. Extracellular glutamate in the culture medium promoted neuronal recovery of electrical function and activity. After recovery, essential growth factors in the culture medium caused adult neurons to reenter the cell cycle and divide multiple times. Only after reaching confluence did some neurons stop dividing. Strategies for inhibition of neuronal mitotic division were investigated, and manipulation of the cdk5 pathway was ultimately found to prevent division in vitro. Prevention of mitotic division as well as optimization of culture and maintenance parameters resulted in a neuronal culture system derived from adult rats in which the neuronal morphology, cytoskeleton and surface protein expression patterns, and electrical activity closely mirrored mature, terminally differentiated adult neurons in vivo. Improvements were also made to the growth surfaces on which neurons attached, regenerated, and survived long-term. Culture surfaces, in this case glass cover slips, were modified with the chemical substrate N-1 (3-(trimethoxysilyl) propyl)-diethylenetriamine (DETA) to create a covalently modified interface with exposed cell-adhesive triamine groups. DETA chemical surfaces were also further modified to create high-resolution patterns, useful in creating engineered two-cell networks of adult hippocampal neurons. Adult hippocampal neurons were also coupled to microelectrode array systems (MEAs) and recovered functionally, fired spontaneously, and reacted to synaptic antagonists in a manner consistent to adult neurons in vivo. Last, neurons from the brains of deceased Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients and from brain tissue excised during surgery for Parkinson's disease (PD), Essential Tremor (ET), and brain tumor were isolated and cultured, with these neurons morphological regenerating and electrically recovering in vitro.


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Graduation Date





Hickman, James J.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Medicine


Biomedical Sciences








Release Date

August 2011

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)