Dissociated high-purity dopaminergic neuron cultures from the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area of the postnatal rat

Neuroscience. 1992 Jul;49(2):347-64. doi: 10.1016/0306-4522(92)90101-7.


We have developed dissociated primary neuronal cultures obtained from the substantia nigra and from the ventral tegmental area of postnatal rats (two to three days old). After making brain slices, the regions of the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area were separately dissected. The removed fragments of brain tissue were dissociated and cultured on a glial feeder layer. Double immunocytochemical labeling for tyrosine hydroxylase and GABA on cultures grown for two to three weeks showed the presence of 42% dopaminergic and 39% GABAergic neurons in substantia nigra cultures, whereas in ventral tegmental area cultures there were 65% dopaminergic and 21% GABAergic neurons. The dopaminergic neurons were characterized by thick and straight primary processes dividing into several branches. Varicosities were found mainly on distal parts of the processes. In contrast, GABAergic neurons possessed highly branched thick and thin primary processes with intensive arborization and numerous varicosities. Co-existence of dopamine and cholecystokinin was found in about 70% of dopaminergic neurons from the substantia nigra and in about 35% of dopaminergic neurons from the ventral tegmental area. Physiological properties of these cultured dopaminergic neurons were investigated with the whole-cell version of the patch-clamp method. After each physiological experiment, immunocytochemical labeling confirmed that the cell was dopaminergic. Properties of single action potentials, with an action potential height of 92 mV and duration of 1.6 ms, were similar to those reported for dopaminergic neurons in brain slices. The neurons showed a high resting potential, and no spontaneous firing of action potentials. Constant current depolarizations elicited trains of action potentials. In the majority of cells, the train stopped firing within a few seconds, while in some cells it lasted indefinitely. When the cell was hyperpolarized, the voltage response started to decline slowly (sag), indicating the presence of hyperpolarization-activated currents (time-dependent inward rectification). These results show that by using our culture method it is possible to obtain separate dissociated cultures of the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area from newborn rats. Because they are rich in functional dopaminergic neurons, these cultures will be a useful tool for studying various properties of dopaminergic neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cholecystokinin / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Mesencephalon / anatomy & histology
  • Mesencephalon / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology*
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / cytology
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / physiology*
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Cholecystokinin
  • Tyrosine 3-Monooxygenase
  • Dopamine