Quantitatively benchmarking similarities and differences between the in vivo central nervous system and in vitro neuronal cultures can qualify discrepancies in functional responses and establish the utility of in vitro platforms. In this work, extracellular electrophysiology responses of cortical neurons in awake, freely-moving animals were compared to in vitro cultures of dissociated cortical neurons. After exposure to two well-characterized drugs, atropine and ketamine, a number of key points were observed: (1) significant differences in spontaneous firing activity for in vivo and in vitro systems, (2) similar response trends in single-unit spiking activity after exposure to atropine, and (3) greater sensitivity to the effects of ketamine in vitro. While in vitro cultures of dissociated cortical neurons may be appropriate for many types of pharmacological studies, we demonstrate that for some drugs, such as ketamine, this system may not fully capture the responses observed in vivo. Understanding the functionality associated with neuronal cultures will enhance the relevance of electrophysiology data sets and more accurately frame their conclusions. Comparing in vivo and in vitro rodent systems will provide the critical framework necessary for developing and interpreting in vitro systems using human cells that strive to more closely recapitulate human in vivo function and response.
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