A Neurosphere Assay to Evaluate Endogenous Neural Stem Cell Activation in a Mouse Model of Minimal Spinal Cord Injury

J Vis Exp. 2018 Sep 13:(139):57727. doi: 10.3791/57727.


Neural stem cells (NSCs) in the adult mammalian spinal cord are a relatively mitotically quiescent population of periventricular cells that can be studied in vitro using the neurosphere assay. This colony-forming assay is a powerful tool to study the response of NSCs to exogenous factors in a dish; however, this can also be used to study the effect of in vivo manipulations with the proper understanding of the strengths and limitations of the assay. One manipulation of the clinical interest is the effect of injury on endogenous NSC activation. Current models of spinal cord injury provide a challenge to study this as the severity of common contusion, compression, and transection models cause the destruction of the NSC niche at the site of the injury where the stem cells reside. Here, we describe a minimal injury model that causes localized damage at the superficial dorsolateral surface of the lower thoracic level (T7/8) of the adult mouse spinal cord. This injury model spares the central canal at the level of injury and permits analysis of the NSCs that reside at the level of the lesion at various time points following injury. Here, we show how the neurosphere assay can be utilized to study the activation of the two distinct, lineally-related, populations of NSCs that reside in the spinal cord periventricular region - primitive and definitive NSCs (pNSCs and dNSCs, respectively). We demonstrate how to isolate and culture these NSCs from the periventricular region at the level of injury and the white matter injury site. Our post-surgical spinal cord dissections show increased numbers of pNSC and dNSC-derived neurospheres from the periventricular region of injured cords compared to controls, speaking to their activation via injury. Furthermore, following injury, dNSC-derived neurospheres can be isolated from the injury site - demonstrating the ability of NSCs to migrate from their periventricular niche to sites of injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Mice
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*