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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

An extremely rich repertoire of bursting patterns during the development of cortical cultures

Daniel A Wagenaar14*, Jerome Pine2 and Steve M Potter3*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Physics, California Institute of Technology, Caltech 103-33, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA

2 Department of Physics, California Institute of Technology, Caltech 256-48, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA

3 Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, 313 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, GA 30332-0535, USA

4 Present address: Division of Biological Sciences, University of California at San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0357, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2006, 7:11  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-7-11

Published: 7 February 2006

Abstract

Background

We have collected a comprehensive set of multi-unit data on dissociated cortical cultures. Previous studies of the development of the electrical activity of dissociated cultures of cortical neurons each focused on limited aspects of its dynamics, and were often based on small numbers of observed cultures. We followed 58 cultures of different densities – 3000 to 50,000 neurons on areas of 30 to 75 mm2 – growing on multi-electrode arrays (MEAs) during the first five weeks of their development.

Results

Plating density had a profound effect on development. While the aggregate spike detection rate scaled linearly with density, as expected from the number of cells in proximity to electrodes, dense cultures started to exhibit bursting behavior earlier in development than sparser cultures. Analysis of responses to electrical stimulation suggests that axonal outgrowth likewise occurred faster in dense cultures. After two weeks, the network activity was dominated by population bursts in most cultures. In contrast to previous reports, development continued with changing burst patterns throughout the observation period. Burst patterns were extremely varied, with inter-burst intervals between 1 and 300 s, different amounts of temporal clustering of bursts, and different firing rate profiles during bursts. During certain stages of development bursts were organized into tight clusters with highly conserved internal structure.

Conclusion

Dissociated cultures of cortical cells exhibited a much richer repertoire of activity patterns than previously reported. Except for the very sparsest cultures, all cultures exhibited globally synchronized bursts, but bursting patterns changed over the course of development, and varied considerably between preparations. This emphasizes the importance of using multiple preparations – not just multiple cultures from one preparation – in any study involving neuronal cultures.

These results are based on 963 half-hour-long recordings. To encourage further investigation of the rich range of behaviors exhibited by cortical cells in vitro, we are making the data available to other researchers, together with Matlab code to facilitate access.