Blockade of spontaneous electrical activity in dissociated fetal spinal cord cultures produced neuronal deficits as measured by biochemical and morphological techniques. Spinal cord cultures exhibited an age-dependent vulnerability to impulse blockade with tetrodotoxin (TTX) or xylocaine. Neuronal cell counts, [125I]tetanus toxin fixation and [125I]scorpion toxin binding indicated that TTX application produced neuronal deficits during the second or third week in culture. Application of TTX during the first or fourth week did not produce a difference in tetanus toxin fixation from controls. Radioautography of [125I]tetanus toxin revealed no obvious change in the label distribution after TTX treatment. Suppression of electrical activity during the first 6 days in culture had no effect on choline acetyltransferase (CAT) activity and no apparent effect on the appearance of the cultures. Application of TTX during the seventh day in culture decreased CAT activity to 68% of control. Chronic electrical blockade produced a progressively greater loss of CAT activity through 21 days in culture. GABAergic neurons, as indicated by high-affinity GABA uptake, glutamic acid decarboxylase activity and [3H]GABA radioautography, were not affected by electrical blockade. These data indicate that there is developmental and neurochemical specificity in the neuronal death produced by blocking spontaneous electrical activity in dissociated spinal cord cultures. © 1983.
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