Cell type specific isolation of primary astrocytes and microglia from adult mouse spinal cord

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of neuroscience methods






Astrocytes; Culture; Cytokine; Isolation; Microglia; RNA; Spinal cord


BACKGROUND: Astrocytes and microglia are essential cellular elements of the CNS that are critical for normal development, function, and injury responses. Both cell types are highly pleiotropic and respond rapidly to environmental changes, making them challenging to characterize. One approach is to develop efficient isolation paradigms of distinct cell populations, allowing for characterization of their roles in distinct CNS regions and in pathological states. NEW METHOD: We have developed an efficient and reliable protocol for isolation of astrocytes and microglia from the adult mouse spinal cord, which can be easily manipulated for immediate or future analyses. This method involves (1) rapid tissue dissociation; (2) cell release after myelin debris removal; (3) magnetic-activated cell sorting; and (4) optional downstream molecular and functional analyses. RESULTS: High levels of viability and purity of the cells were confirmed after isolation. More importantly, characterization of cells verified their ability to proliferate and respond to external stimuli for potential use in downstream molecular and functional assays. COMPARISON WITH EXISTING METHOD(S): Long-term culture of cells isolated from neonatal animals and cell type specific isolation from the brain have been successful; however, isolation of spinal cord cells from adult mice has been challenging due to the large amount of myelin and limited size of the tissue compared to the brain. Our method allows for efficient isolation of astrocytes and microglia from spinal cord alone and includes simple modifications to allow for various downstream applications. CONCLUSIONS: This technique will be a valuable tool to better understand the functions of astrocytes and microglia in spinal cord function and pathology.


Anatomy and Regenerative Biology