The developmental regulation of neuronal survival by vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) was investigated in dissociated spinal cord-dorsal root ganglion (SC-DRG) cultures. Previous studies demonstrated that VIP increased neuronal survival in SC-DRG cultures when synaptic transmission was blocked with tetrodotoxin (TTX). This effect was further investigated to determine if VIP acted directly on neurons or via nonneuronal cells. For these studies, SC-DRG cells were cultured under conditions designed to provide preparations enriched for a particular cell type: astrocyte-enriched background cell (BG) cultures, meningeal fibroblast cultures, standard mixed neuron-nonneuron (STD) cultures, and neuron-enriched (N) cultures. Addition of 0.1 nM VIP to TTX-treated STD cultures for 5 d prevented the TTX-mediated death and the death that occurred naturally during development in culture, whereas the same treatment on N cultures did not prevent neuronal cell death. Conditioned medium from VIP-stimulated BG cultures prevented neuronal cell death when added to the medium (10% of total volume) of N cultures treated with TTX. The same amount of conditioned medium from BG cultures that were not treated with VIP had no protective action on N cultures. Conditioned medium from N or meningeal fibroblast cultures, either with or without VIP treatment, did not prevent TTX-mediated cell death in N test cultures. These data indicate that VIP increases the availability of neurotrophic survival-promoting substances derived from nonneuronal cultures, the most likely source being astroglial cells. This study suggests that VIP has a role in mediating a neuron-glia-neuron interaction that influences the trophic regulation of neuronal survival.

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