A simplified method for ultra-low density, long-term primary hippocampal neuron culture

Zhongming Lu, Mariel Piechowicz, Shenfeng Qiu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Culturing primary hippocampal neurons in vitro facilitates mechanistic interrogation of many aspects of neuronal development. Dissociated embryonic hippocampal neurons can often grow successfully on glass coverslips at high density under serum-free conditions, but low density cultures typically require a supply of trophic factors by co-culturing them with a glia feeder layer, preparation of which can be time-consuming and laborious. In addition, the presence of glia may confound interpretation of results and preclude studies on neuron-specific mechanisms. Here, a simplified method is presented for ultra-low density (~2,000 neurons/cm2), long-term (>3 months) primary hippocampal neuron culture that is under serum free conditions and without glia cell support. Low density neurons are grown on poly-D-lysine coated coverslips, and flipped on high density neurons grown in a 24-well plate. Instead of using paraffin dots to create a space between the two neuronal layers, the experimenters can simply etch the plastic bottom of the well, on which the high density neurons reside, to create a microspace conducive to low density neuron growth. The co-culture can be easily maintained for >3 months without significant loss of low density neurons, thus facilitating the morphological and physiological study of these neurons. To illustrate this successful culture condition, data are provided to show profuse synapse formation in low density cells after prolonged culture. This co-culture system also facilitates the survival of sparse individual neurons grown in islands of poly-D-lysine substrates and thus the formation of autaptic connections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53797
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number109
StatePublished - Mar 5 2016


  • Autaptic synapse
  • Developmental neurobiology
  • Excitatory synapse
  • Hippocampus
  • Immunocytochemistry
  • Issue 109
  • Low density culture
  • Neuroscience
  • Primary neuron culture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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