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Note: Research in this publication was not performed at Janelia.
Generating microislands of culture substrate on coverslips by spray application of poly-d lysine is a commonly used method for culturing isolated neurons that form self (autaptic) synapses. This preparation has multiple advantages for studying synaptic transmission in isolation; however, generating microislands by spraying produces islands of non-uniform size and thus cultures vary widely in the number of islands containing single neurons. To address these problems, we developed a high-throughput method for reliably generating uniformly shaped microislands of culture substrate. Stamp molds formed of poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) were fabricated with arrays of circles and used to generate stamps made of 9.2% agarose. The agarose stamps were capable of loading sufficient poly D-lysine and collagen dissolved in acetic acid to rapidly generate coverslips containing at least 64 microislands per coverslip. When hippocampal neurons were cultured on these coverslips, there were significantly more single-neuron islands per coverslip. We noted that single neurons tended to form one of three distinct neurite-arbor morphologies, which varied with island size and the location of the cell body on the island. To our surprise, the number of synapses per autaptic neuron did not correlate with arbor shape or island size, suggesting that other factors regulate the number of synapses formed by isolated neurons. The stamping method we report can be used to increase the number of single-neuron islands per culture and aid in the rapid visualization of microislands.