The brain is the most intricate, energetically active, and plastic organ in the body. These features extend to its cellular elements, the neurons and glia. Understanding neurons, or nerve cells, at the cellular and molecular levels is the cornerstone of modern neuroscience. The complexities of neuron structure and function require unusual methods of culture to determine how aberrations in or between cells give rise to brain dysfunction and disease. Here we review the methods that have emerged over the past century for culturing neurons in vitro, from the landmark finding by Harrison (1910) - that neurons can be cultured outside the body - to studies utilizing culture vessels, micro-islands, Campenot and brain slice chambers, and microfluidic technologies. We conclude with future prospects for neuronal culture and considerations for advancement. We anticipate that continued innovation in culture methods will enhance design capabilities for temporal control of media and reagents (chemotemporal control) within sub-cellular environments of three-dimensional fluidic spaces (microfluidic devices) and materials (e.g., hydrogels). They will enable new insights into the complexities of neuronal development and pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)501-521
Number of pages21
JournalYale Journal of Biology and Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Brain slice culture
  • Cell culture
  • Co-culture
  • Culture chamber
  • Culture flask
  • Culture substrate
  • Hanging drop
  • Microfluidics
  • Neuron
  • Organotypic culture
  • PDMS
  • Polydimethylsiloxane
  • Substrate patterning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Medicine


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