Document Type




Journal Title

Jove-Journal of Visualized Experiments

Pub Date





The process by which the anterior region of the neural plate gives rise to the vertebrate retina continues to be a major focus of both clinical and basic research. In addition to the obvious medical relevance for understanding and treating retinal disease, the development of the vertebrate retina continues to serve as an important and elegant model system for understanding neuronal cell type determination and differentiation(1-16). The neural retina consists of six discrete cell types (ganglion, amacrine, horizontal, photoreceptors, bipolar cells, and Muller glial cells) arranged in stereotypical layers, a pattern that is largely conserved among all vertebrates (12,14-18). While studying the retina in the intact developing embryo is clearly required for understanding how this complex organ develops from a protrusion of the forebrain into a layered structure, there are many questions that benefit from employing approaches using primary cell culture of presumptive retinal cells (7,19-23). For example, analyzing cells from tissues removed and dissociated at different stages allows one to discern the state of specification of individual cells at different developmental stages, that is, the fate of the cells in the absence of interactions with neighboring tissues (8,19-22,24-33). Primary cell culture also allows the investigator to treat the culture with specific reagents and analyze the results on a single cell level (5,8,21,24,27-30,33-39). Xenopus laevis, a classic model system for the study of early neural development (19,27,29,31-32,40-42), serves as a particularly suitable system for retinal primary cell culture (10,38,43-45). Presumptive retinal tissue is accessible from the earliest stages of development, immediately following neural induction (25,38,43). In addition, given that each cell in the embryo contains a supply of yolk, retinal cells can be cultured in a very simple defined media consisting of a buffered salt solution, thus removing the confounding effects of incubation or other sera-based products (10,24,44-45). However, the isolation of the retinal tissue from surrounding tissues and the subsequent processing is challenging. Here, we present a method for the dissection and dissociation of retinal cells in Xenopus laevis that will be used to prepare primary cell cultures that will, in turn, be analyzed for calcium activity and gene expression at the resolution of single cells. While the topic presented in this paper is the analysis of spontaneous calcium transients, the technique is broadly applicable to a wide array of research questions and approaches (Figure 1).