While much is known about general controls over axon guidance of broad classes of projection neurons (those with long-distance axonal connections), molecular controls over specific axon targeting by distinct neuron subtypes are poorly understood. Corticospinal motor neurons (CSMN) are prototypical and clinically important cerebral cortex projection neurons; they are the brain neurons that degenerate in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and related motor neuron diseases, and their injury is central to the loss of motor function in spinal cord injury. Primary culture of purified immature murine CSMN has been recently established, using either fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) or immunopanning, enabling a previously unattainable level of subtype-specific investigation, but the resulting number of CSMN is quite limiting for standard approaches to study axon guidance. We developed a microfluidic system specifically designed to investigate axon targeting of limited numbers of purified CSMN and other projection neurons in culture. The system contains two chambers for culturing target tissue explants, allowing for biologically revealing axonal growth "choice" experiments. This device will be uniquely enabling for investigation of controls over axon growth and neuronal survival of many types of neurons, particularly those available only in limited numbers.
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