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Prog Brain Res. 2005;147:173-88.

Dynamics and plasticity in developing neuronal networks in vitro.

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  • 1Netherlands Institute for Brain Research, Graduate School Neurosciences Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 33, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


When dissociated cortical tissue is brought into culture, neurons readily grow out by forming axonal and dendritic arborizations and synaptic connections. These developing neuronal networks in vitro display spontaneous firing activity from about the end of the first week in vitro. When cultured on multielectrode arrays firing activity can be recorded from many neurons simultaneously over long periods of time. These experimental approaches provide valuable data for studying firing dynamics in neuronal networks in relation to an ongoing development of neurons and synaptic connectivity in the network. This chapter summarizes recent findings on the characteristics and developmental changes in the spontaneous firing dynamics. These changes include long-lasting transient periods of increased firing at individual sites on a time scale of days to weeks, and an age-specific repetitive pattern of synchronous network firing (network bursts) on a time scale of seconds. Especially the spatio-temporal organization of firing within network bursts showed great stability over many hours. In addition, a progressive day-to-day evolution was observed, with an initial broadening of the burst firing rate profile during the 3rd week in vitro (WIV) and a pattern of abrupt onset and precise spike timing from the 5th WIV onwards. These developmental changes are discussed in the light of structural changes in the network and activity-dependent plasticity mechanisms. Preliminary findings are presented on the pattern of spike sequences within network burst, as well as the effect of external stimulation on the spatio-temporal organization within network bursts.

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