Spinal cord cell cultures contain several types of neurons. Two methods are described for enriching such cultures with motoneurons (defined here simply as cholinergic cells that are capable of innervating muscle). In the first method, 7-day embryonic chick spinal cord neurons were separated according to size by 1 g velocity sedimentation. It is assumed that cholinergic motoneurons are among the largest cells present at this stage. The spinal cords were dissociated vigorously so that 95-98% of the cells in the initial suspension were isolated from one another. Cells in leading fractions (large cell fractions: LCFs) contain about seven times as much choline acetyltransferase (CAT) activity per unit cytoplasm as do cells in trailing fractions (small cell fractions: SCFs). Muscle cultures seeded with LCFs develop 10-70 times as much CAT as cultures seeded with SCFs and six times as much CAT as cultures seeded with control (unfractionated) spinal cord cells. More than 20% of the large neurons in LCF-muscle cultures innervate nearby myotubes. In the second method, neurons were gently dissociated from 4-day embryonic spinal cords and maintained in vitro. This approach is based on earlier observations that cholinergic neurons are among the first cells to withdraw form the mitotic cycle in the developing chick embryo (Hamburger, V. 1948. J. Comp. Neurol. 88:221-283; and Levi-Montalcini, R. 1950. J. Morphol. 86:253-283). 4-Day spinal cord-muscle cultures develop three times as much CAT as do 7-day spinal cord-muscle plates, prepared in the same (gentle) manner. More than 50% of the relatively large 4-day neurons innervate nearby myotubes. Thus, both methods are useful first steps toward the complete isolation of motoneurons. Both methods should facilitate study of the development of cholinergic neurons and of nerve-muscle synapse formation.

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