Neurons dissociated from rat myenteric plexus retain differentiated properties when grown in cell culture. I. Morphological properties and immunocytochemical localization of transmitter candidates.
We have developed procedures for dissociating neurons from the myenteric plexus of the small intestine of newborn rats and for growing those neurons in cell cultures for up to 3 months. Neurons in these cultures retain many of the differentiated properties of myenteric neurons in vivo. This is the first of a series of 3 papers describing those properties. In this paper, we describe the morphology of cultured neurons that we have observed with light and electron microscopy; we also describe the patterns of straining observed when immunocytochemical techniques were used to localize neurotransmitter candidates in the cultured neurons. Intracellular injections of a fluorescent dye, Lucifer yellow, revealed that many of the cultured neurons had morphologies similar to those of myenteric neurons in vivo. When thin sections of cultures were viewed in an electron microscope, many neurons were observed to have numerous small (40-60 nm), clear synaptic vesicles and/or large (80-150 nm), opaque-cored (p-type) vesicles. Synaptic profiles were most often observed on neuronal somata. Neurons containing immunoreactive serotonin, substance P, somatostatin, enkephalin, bombesin and gastrin/cholecystokinin were observed in about the same proportions as they occur in the intact myenteric plexus. Neurons containing immunoreactive vasoactive intestinal polypeptide were found in higher numbers than reported in vivo. Neurons containing immunoreactive neurotensin, secretin and glutamate decarboxylase were not observed. An antiserum directed against choline acetyltransferase stained 40-50% of the neurons. We conclude that myenteric neurons continue to express much of their normal differentiated properties even when they are removed from the gut, dissociated into a suspension of single cells and grown in culture. Such cultures will be useful for correlating the morphological, biophysical, pharmacological and synaptic properties of individual myenteric neurons and for testing the ability of altered environmental conditions to change those properties.