Development of rat CA1 neurones in acute versus organotypic slices: role of experience in synaptic morphology and activity

J Physiol. 2003 Jul 1;550(Pt 1):135-47. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2003.039099.


Despite their wide use, the physiological relevance of organotypic slices remains controversial. Such cultures are prepared at 5 days postnatal. Although some local circuitry remains intact, they develop subsequently in isolation from the animal and hence without plasticity due to experience. Development of synaptic connectivity and morphology might be expected to proceed differently under these conditions than in a behaving animal. To address these questions, patch-clamp techniques and confocal microscopy were used in the CA1 region of the rat hippocampus to compare acute slices from the third postnatal week with various stages of organotypic slices. Acute slices prepared at postnatal days (P) 14, 17 and 21 were found to be developmentally equivalent to organotypic slices cultured for 1, 2 and 3 weeks, respectively, in terms of development of synaptic transmission and dendritic morphology. The frequency of inhibitory and excitatory miniature synaptic currents increased in parallel. Development of dendritic length and primary branching as well as spine density and proportions of different spine types were also similar in both preparations,at these corresponding stages. The most notable difference between organotypic and acute slices was a four- to five-fold increase in the absolute frequency of glutamatergic (but not GABAergic)miniature postsynaptic currents in organotypic slices. This was probably related to an increase in complexity of higher order dendritic branching in organotypic slices, as measured by fractal analysis, resulting in an increased total synapse number. Both increased excitatory miniature synaptic current frequency and dendritic complexity were already established during the first week in culture. The level of complexity then stayed constant in both preparations over subsequent stages, with synaptic frequency increasing in parallel. Thus, although connectivity was greater in organotypic slices, once this was established, development continued in both preparations at are markably similar rate. We conclude that, for the parameters studied, changes seem to be preprogrammed by 5 days and their subsequent development is largely independent of environment.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / growth & development
  • Cellular Senescence
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials
  • Fractals
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Hippocampus / ultrastructure
  • Histological Techniques
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Kinetics
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurons / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, GABA / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Tetrodotoxin / pharmacology
  • Time Factors


  • Receptors, GABA
  • Tetrodotoxin