Cultures of dissociated hippocampal neuronal and glial cells are a valuable experimental model for studying neural growth and function by providing high cell isolation and a controlled environment. However, the survival of hippocampal cells in vitro is compromised: most cells die during the first week of culture. It is therefore of great importance to identify ways to increase the durability of neural cells in culture.
Calcium carbonate in the form of crystalline aragonite derived from the skeleton of corals can be used as a superior, active matrix for neural cultures. By nurturing, protecting, and activating glial cells, the coral skeleton enhances the survival and growth of these cells in vitro better than other matrices.
This protocol describes a method for cultivating hippocampal cells on a coralline matrix. This matrix is generated by attaching grains of coral skeletons to culture dishes, flasks, and glass coverslips. The grains assist in improving the environment of the cells by introducing them to a fine three-dimensional (3D) environment to grow on and to form tissue-like structures. The 3D environment introduced by the coral skeleton can be optimized for the cells by grinding, which enables control over the size and density of the grains (i.e., the matrix roughness), a property that has been found to influence glial cells activity. Moreover, the use of grains makes the observation and analysis of the cultures easier, especially when using light microscopy. Hence, the protocol includes procedures for generation and optimization of the coralline matrix as a tool to improve the maintenance and functionality of neural cells in vitro.