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An improved technique for culturing cells, developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), may enable new, fundamental insights into the behavior of neuronal cells.
In a paper in the American Chemical Society's journal Langmuir*, NIST researchers detail a microfluidics technique to culture neuronal cells in relative isolation on a variety of cell-culture surfaces, and to pattern the cells on the surface to study the effects of geometry on cell development. The trick is to mask the substrate with multiple alternating layers of positively and negatively charged polymers, building up a so-called polyelectrolyte multilayer (PEM). Properly selected, the PEM coating convinces the neuronal cells that they're in a good environment to attach, develop and produce the characteristic neuron projections and synapses, all without a glial layer.
Even better, according to the NIST team, microfluidic channels can be used to lay down the PEM coating in patterned lines just a few micrometers wide. Neuronal cells will largely confine themselves to the pattern, enabling a variety of cell-geometry experiments, such as measuring the maximum gap between lines that can be bridged by neural axons and dendrites.
The research is part of a multidisciplinary NIST program to develop biochemical measurement technologies based on microfluidics.
*S.P. Forry, D.R. Reyes, M.Gaitan, and L.E. Locascio. Facilitating the culture of mammalian nerve cells with polyelectrolyte multilayers. Langmuir, ASAP Article Web Release Date: May 19, 2006. Available at: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/langd5/asap/abs/la053244b.html.
Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology. May 2006
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