C. elegans has provided important insights into neuromuscular system function and development. However, the animal's small size limits access to individual neurons and muscle cells for physiological, biochemical, and molecular study. We describe here primary culture methods that allow C. elegans embryonic cells to differentiate into neurons and muscle cells in vitro. Morphological, electrophysiological, and GFP reporter studies demonstrate that the differentiation and functional properties of cultured cells are similar to those observed in vivo. Enriched populations of cells expressing specific GFP reporters can be generated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Addition of double-stranded RNA to the culture medium induces dramatic knockdown of targeted gene expression. Primary nematode cell culture provides a new foundation for a wide variety of experimental opportunities heretofore unavailable in the field.