Recent technical advances in the ability to attach an endogenously fluorescent protein sequence—i.e., green fluorescent protein or GFP and its derivatives--to any protein of experimental interest promises to mark a new era of progress in the study of protein targeting. Bringing these new tools to bear on neurons of the central nervous system has been challenging, however, because they have a very complex structure and are relatively difficult to transfect because they are post-mitotic.
We use two cell culture approaches to characterize protein trafficking within neurons of the central nervous system in vitro. The first is a dissociated culture of hippocampal neurons from embryonic (El8) rats which is especially suited to analysis by conventional light microscopy because these neurons are grown on glass coverslips at low density. Neurons cultured in this way develop a morphology comparable to that seen in vivo and permit the establishment of axons and dendrites to be analyzed by time-lapse microscopy.