Surgical extraction of human dorsal root ganglia from organ donors and preparation of primary sensory neuron cultures

Nat Protoc. 2016 Oct;11(10):1877-88. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2016.111. Epub 2016 Sep 8.


Primary cultures of rodent sensory neurons are widely used to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in pain, itch, nerve injury and regeneration. However, translation of these preclinical findings may be greatly improved by direct validation in human tissues. We have developed an approach to extract and culture human sensory neurons in collaboration with a local organ procurement organization (OPO). Here we describe the surgical procedure for extraction of human dorsal root ganglia (hDRG) and the necessary modifications to existing culture techniques to prepare viable adult human sensory neurons for functional studies. Dissociated sensory neurons can be maintained in culture for >10 d, and they are amenable to electrophysiological recording, calcium imaging and viral gene transfer. The entire process of extraction and culturing can be completed in <7 h, and it can be performed by trained graduate students. This approach can be applied at any institution with access to organ donors consenting to tissue donation for research, and is an invaluable resource for improving translational research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Cell Culture Techniques / methods
  • Cell Separation / methods
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Ganglia, Spinal / cytology*
  • Ganglia, Spinal / surgery*
  • Gene Transfer Techniques
  • Humans
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / cytology*
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism
  • Tissue and Organ Procurement / methods*
  • Transduction, Genetic / methods
  • Viruses / genetics


  • Calcium