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Basal forebrain cholinergic cell attachment and neurite outgrowth on organotypic slice cultures of hippocampal formation


Distributions of somata and neurites of cholinergic neurons were studied after seeding dissociated cells onto organotypic slice cultures. Slice cultures were made from hippocampal formation and adjacent cortical regions from rats or mice. Dissociated cell suspensions of basal forebrain tissue from rat or mouse fetuses were seeded onto the slice cultures. Combined cultures were maintained for 1-21 days in vitro. Cultures processed for acetylcholinesterase (AChE) histochemistry demonstrated non-random patterns of cholinergic cells and their neurites. Labeled cells appeared most frequently in the molecular layer of the dentate gyrus, and in the deeper layers of cortical regions adjacent to the hippocampus. Neurites extending from these labeled cells appeared to target the dentate molecular layer and the cortical subplate layer. By 4 days in vitro, AChE-positive basal forebrain cells display several short and thick neurites that appear to be dendrites, and one long process that appears to be an axon. By 5 days in vitro, dendrites are well developed; by 7 days the presumed axon has extended widely over the cortical target zone. These neurites are maintained through 3 weeks in culture. Distributions of cells varied with the age of the slice. AChE-labeled cells were not seen overlying hippocampal tissue when dissociated cells were seeded on slice cultures made from day 0 rats, but a few labeled cells were seen when seeded on slices from day 2 rats. Clear non-random patterns of labeled cells and neurite outgrowth were seen on slice cultures from day 5 or older pups. The non-random distribution seen with AChE-positive neurons was not seen using other techniques that labeled all cells (non-selective fluorescent labels) or all neurons; these techniques resulted in labeled cells scattered apparently homogenously across the slice culture.These studies demonstrate a non-random pattern of attachment or differentiation of basal forebrain cholinergic neurons when these cells are seeded onto cultured cortical slices; this pattern mimics the normal patterns of basal forebrain cholinergic projections to these cortical regions. These data suggest that the factors that normally guide basal forebrain-derived cholinergic axons to their target cells in vivo are present and detectable in this model system.

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