Dorsal Root Ganglia Neurons and Differentiated Adipose-derived Stem Cells: An In Vitro Co-culture Model to Study Peripheral Nerve Regeneration
Dorsal root ganglia (DRG) neurons, located in the intervertebral foramina of the spinal column, can be used to create an in vitro system facilitating the study of nerve regeneration and myelination. The glial cells of the peripheral nervous system, Schwann cells (SC), are key facilitators of these processes; it is therefore crucial that the interactions of these cellular components are studied together. Direct contact between DRG neurons and glial cells provides additional stimuli sensed by specific membrane receptors, further improving the neuronal response. SC release growth factors and proteins in the culture medium, which enhance neuron survival and stimulate neurite sprouting and extension. However, SC require long proliferation time to be used for tissue engineering applications and the sacrifice of an healthy nerve for their sourcing. Adipose-derived stem cells (ASC) differentiated into SC phenotype are a valid alternative to SC for the set-up of a co-culture model with DRG neurons to study nerve regeneration. The present work presents a detailed and reproducible step-by-step protocol to harvest both DRG neurons and ASC from adult rats; to differentiate ASC towards a SC phenotype; and combines the two cell types in a direct co-culture system to investigate the interplay between neurons and SC in the peripheral nervous system. This tool has great potential in the optimization of tissue-engineered constructs for peripheral nerve repair.