Synaptic transmission between rat superior cervical ganglion neurons in dissociated cell cultures

Chien Ping Ko, Harold Burton, Mary I. Johnson, Richard P. Bunge

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14 Scopus citations


The principal neurons of the rat superior cervical ganglion (SCGN) when established as dissociated cells in tissue culture form synapses among themselves. In the present study we have examined this synaptic interaction when these neurons are co-cultured with several other types of tissues. Dissociated SCGN were prepared from perinatal rats and studied, after 3-4 weeks maturation, with intracellular recording techniques. Synaptic interactions between sympathetic neurons were demonstrated when these cells were: (a) grown with explants from newborn rat thoratic spinal cord, (b) when the SCGN had survived for several weeks subsequent to removal of hte spinal cord explants, and (c) when the SCGN were grown in the presence of an adrenergic target (interscapular brown fat cells). Unidirectional, reciprocal, recurrent and complex chemical synaptic networks, consisting of conergence and divergence, characterized connections between SCGN. All synaptic responses were cholinergic since they were reversibly blocked by hexamethonium or mecamylamine but were not sensitive to 10-5 M phenoxybenzamine. Removal of the spinal cord explants did not significantly alter the proportion of chemical synaptic interactions between SCGN (more than 25%) from matched cultures. Anatomical observations established that in cultures with brown fat, innevating neurites appeared on the fat cells: these neurites frequently expanded to form varicosities that resembled the adrenergic terminals normally seen on brown fat in the animal. Synaptic profiles also occured on the neurons in these cultures and some of these were shown to be cholinergic. The proportion of neuronal interactions in the combined SCGN + fat cultures was low, however, suggesting that co-culture with target tissue might influence the frequency of interconnections developed between SCGN in culture. Other factors, such as the presence of non-neuronal cells, degree of dissociation, cellular density, culture age and the survival of certain types of SCGN in culture are discussed as variables related to the formation of synapses between SCGN. Non-retified electrical coupling between SCGN was also observed in 17 out of 679 pairs (2.5%) of neurons. Attenuation factor for electrically coupled action potentials ranged between 1 and 43.5.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-485
Number of pages25
JournalBrain Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 3 1976


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