Neuromuscular junction (NMJ) formation, occurring between motoneurons and skeletal muscle, is a complex multistep process involving a variety of signaling molecules and pathways. In vitro motoneuron-muscle co-cultures are powerful tools to study the role of different growth factors, hormones and cellular structures involved in NMJ formation. In this study, a serum-free culture system utilizing defined temporal growth factor application and a non-biological substrate resulted in the formation of robust NMJs. The system resulted in long-term survival of the co-culture and selective expression of neonatal myosin heavy chain, a marker of myotube maturation. NMJ formation was verified by colocalization of dense clusters of acetylcholine receptors visualized using alpha-bungarotoxin and synaptophysin containing vesicles present in motoneuron axonal terminals. This model will find applications in basic NMJ research and tissue engineering applications such as bio-hybrid device development for limb prosthesis and regenerative medicine as well as for high-throughput drug and toxin screening applications.
Das, M. J. W. Rumsey, N.Bhargava, M. Stancescu, J. J. Hickman