A new type of collagen surface for use with cultures of peripheral nervous system cells is described. Collagen is derivatized to plastic culture dishes by a cross-linking reagent, l-cyclohexyl-3-(2-morpholinoethyl)-carbodiimide-metho-p-toluene sulfonate (carbodiimide), to form a uniform and durable surface for cell attachment and growth that allows dry storage, long-term culture, and improved microscopy. Surfaces of collagen derivatized to plastic were compared to surfaces of adsorbed or ammonia-polymerized collagen in terms of collagen binding and detachment, growth by dorsal root ganglion cells, and electron microscopy appearances. Derivatized collagen surfaces retained more collagen and showed much less evidence of degradation and cellular damage over periods of many weeks than did conventional adsorbed surfaces. Long-term survival of cells on derivatized collagen was far superior to that on the other surfaces, with almost 90% of cultures still viable after 10 wk. Transmission electron microscopy showed an organized layer of single fibrils that supported cell growth well, and scanning electron microscopy demonstrated an increased uniformity of derivatized collagen surfaces compared to ammoniated collagen surfaces. Applications for this improved substrate surface are discussed.