Distortion of protein analysis in primary neuronal cultures by serum albumin from culture medium: a methodological approach to improve target protein quantification

Ashleigh Willis, Judith A. Pratt, Brian J. Morris

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BACKGROUND: Primary neuronal cultures underpin diverse neuroscience experiments, including various protein analysis techniques, such as Western blotting, whereby protein extraction from cultured neurons is required. During immunoblotting experiments, we encountered problems due to a highly-abundant protein of 65-70 KDa present in the cell extracts, that interfered with total protein estimation, and immunodetection of target proteins of similar size. Previous research has suggested that serum proteins, specifically albumin, contained within commonly-used culture media, can bind to, or be adsorbed by, generic cell culture plasticware. This residual albumin may then be extracted along with cell proteins.

NEW METHOD: We made simple modifications to wash steps of traditional cell lysis/extraction protocols.

RESULTS: We report that a substantial amount of albumin, accumulated from the standard culture media, is extracted from primary neuronal cultures along with the cellular contents. This contamination can be reduced, without changing the culture conditions, by modifying wash procedures.

COMPARISON WITH EXISTING METHODS: Accumulated albumin from neuronal culture media, in amounts equivalent to cellular contents, can distort data from total protein assays and from the immunoreactive signal from nearby bands on Western blots. By altering wash protocols during protein extraction, these problems can be ameliorated.

CONCLUSIONS: We suggest that the standard extended culture periods for primary neuronal cultures, coupled with the requirement for successive medium changes, may leave them particularly susceptible to cumulative albumin contamination from the culture media used. Finally, we propose the implementation of simple alterations to wash steps in protein extraction protocols which can ameliorate this interference.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
Early online date6 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • band distortion
  • protein adsorption
  • immunoglot problem
  • protein extraction
  • primary neurons

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