Pharmacological characterization of cultivated neuronal networks : relevance to synaptogenesis and synaptic connectivity
Faculty of Pharmaceutical, Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences . Biomedical Sciences
New York, N.Y.
Cellular and molecular neurobiology. - New York, N.Y.
, p. 757-776
University of Antwerp
Mental disorders, such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, are associated with impaired synaptogenesis and/or synaptic communication. During development, neurons assemble into neuronal networks, the primary supracellular mediators of information processing. In addition to the orchestrated activation of genetic programs, spontaneous electrical activity and associated calcium signaling have been shown to be critically involved in the maturation of such neuronal networks. We established an in vitro model that recapitulates the maturation of neuronal networks, including spontaneous electrical activity. Upon plating, mouse primary hippocampal neurons grow neurites and interconnect via synapses to form a dish-wide neuronal network. Via live cell calcium imaging, we identified a limited period of time in which the spontaneous activity synchronizes across neurons, indicative of the formation of a functional network. After establishment of network activity, the neurons grow dendritic spines, the density of which was used as a morphological readout for neuronal maturity and connectivity. Hence, quantification of neurite outgrowth, synapse density, spontaneous neuronal activity, and dendritic spine density allowed to study neuronal network maturation from the day of plating until the presence of mature neuronal networks. Via acute pharmacological intervention, we show that synchronized network activity is mediated by the NMDA-R. The balance between kynurenic and quinolinic acid, both neuro-active intermediates in the tryptophan/kynurenine pathway, was shown to be decisive for the maintenance of network activity. Chronic modulation of the neurotrophic support influenced the network formation and revealed the extreme sensitivity of calcium imaging to detect subtle alterations in neuronal physiology. Given the reproducible cultivation in a 96-well setup in combination with fully automated analysis of the calcium recordings, this approach can be used to build a high-content screening assay usable for neurotoxicity screening, target identification/validation, or phenotypic drug screening.