We present a procedure for the dissociation and growth in serum-free defined culture medium of 4-day chick embryo lumbar spinal cord (LC4) neurons. LC4 neurons will not survive for even 24 h without the addition of trophic supplements (putative spinal cord neuronotrophic factors, SCNTFs). Serum-free medium conditioned over chick embryo heart and skeletal muscle, mouse Schwann and rat RN22 Schwannoma cell cultures were found to contain SCNTF activity which could be quantitated using a convenient neuronal survival bioassay. RN22 conditioned medium also contains polyornithine-binding neurite promoting factors (PNPFs) which can be physically separated from SCNTF. When SCNTF and PNPF were presented to LC4 neurons individually or in combination (i) SCNTF, but not PNPF, supported neuronal survival whereas (ii) PNPF, but not SCNTF, induced neurite production. When LC4 neurons were grown in SCNTF alone, nearly all of them exhibited a flattened, circular, 'fried-egg' morphology. The subsequent addition of PNPF caused these cells to extend long neurites with characteristic terminal growth-cone-like structures.
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