Synapse formation and establishment of neuronal polarity by P19 embryonic carcinoma cells and embryonic stem cells

Michael F.A. Finley, Nita Kulkarni, James E. Huettner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

161 Scopus citations


A number of different cell lines that exhibit a partial neuronal phenotype have been identified, but in many cases the full extent of their neuronal differentiation has not been directly addressed by functional studies. We have used electrophysiology and immunofluorescence to examine the formation of synapses and the development of neuronal polarity by murine embryonic stem (ES) cells and the mouse P19 embryonic carcinoma cell line. Within 2-3 weeks after induction by retinoic acid, subsets of P19 and ES cells formed excitatory synapses, mediated by glutamate receptors, or inhibitory synapses, mediated by receptors for GABA or glycine. In ES-cell cultures, both NMDA and non-NMDA receptors contributed to the excitatory postsynaptic response. Staining with antibodies to growth-associated protein-43 and microtubule- associated protein-2 revealed segregation of immunoreactivity into separate axonal and somato-dendritic compartments, respectively. Consistent with our physiological evidence for synapse formation, intense punctate staining was observed with antibodies to the synaptic vesicle proteins synapsin, SV2, and synaptophysin. These results demonstrate the in vitro acquisition by pluripotent cell lines of neuronal polarity and functional synaptic transmission that is characteristic of CNS neurons.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1056-1065
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 1996


  • NMDA receptors
  • embryonic carcinoma cells
  • embryonic stem cells
  • neuronal differentiation
  • neuronal polarity
  • synaptic transmission


Dive into the research topics of 'Synapse formation and establishment of neuronal polarity by P19 embryonic carcinoma cells and embryonic stem cells'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this