• calcium;
  • cell death;
  • cell culture;
  • cerebral cortex;
  • oscillation


Neural activity is thought to play a significant role during the development of the cerebral cortex. In this study, we examined the effects of global activity block or enhancement and the effects of patterned firing on the ability of cultured rat neocortical neurons to survive during the second week in vitro, beyond the beginning of synaptogenesis. Blockade of neuronal activity by adding tetrodotoxin (TTX) and increasing magnesium concentration in the medium strongly reduced the survival of cortical cells. Increasing neuronal activity by raising the external potassium concentration significantly improved the survival of cortical neurons. We postulated that in a developing neuronal network the survival of nerve cells is regulated by synaptically mediated events that involve changes in the intracellular calcium concentration. To examine this question further, we monitored the activity of the developing network by optically recording the intracellular calcium signals of many neurons simultaneously. These recordings show that in low magnesium neocortical neurons express synchronized oscillation of their intracellular calcium concentration. The ability of a network to synchronize the changes in intracellular calcium of multiple cells appeared gradually during the second week in culture, paralleled by both an increase in the synaptic density and a decline in the number of surviving neurons. By examining the fate of identified cells several days after a recording session, we found that those nerve cells that were co-activated with other neurons had a significantly higher chance to survive than cells that did not participate in synchronized events. These experiments demonstrate that during early cortical network development cortical neurons show synchronized firing activity and that the survival of neurons is at least partially dependent on this pattern of neuronal activity.