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Concept: Developmental neuroscience


During neural tube formation, neural plate cells migrate from the lateral aspects of the dorsal surface towards the midline. Elevation of the lateral regions of the neural plate produces the neural folds which then migrate to the midline where they fuse at their dorsal tips, generating a closed neural tube comprising an apicobasally polarized neuroepithelium. Our previous study identified a novel role for the axon guidance receptor neogenin in Xenopus neural tube formation. We demonstrated that loss of neogenin impeded neural fold apposition and neural tube closure. This study also revealed that neogenin, via its interaction with its ligand, RGMa, promoted cell-cell adhesion between neural plate cells as the neural folds elevated and between neuroepithelial cells within the neural tube. The second neogenin ligand, netrin-1, has been implicated in cell migration and epithelial morphogenesis. Therefore, we hypothesized that netrin-1 may also act as a ligand for neogenin during neurulation. Here we demonstrate that morpholino knockdown of Xenopus netrin-1 results in delayed neural fold apposition and neural tube closure. We further show that netrin-1 functions in the same pathway as neogenin and RGMa during neurulation. However, contrary to the role of neogenin-RGMa interactions, neogenin-netrin-1 interactions are not required for neural fold elevation or adhesion between neuroepithelial cells. Instead, our data suggest that netrin-1 contributes to the migration of the neural folds towards the midline. We conclude that both neogenin ligands work synergistically to ensure neural tube closure. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., 2013.

Concepts: Axon, Embryology, Neural groove, Neural folds, Neural plate, Developmental neuroscience, Neurulation, Neural tube


The very early postnatal period witnesses extraordinary rates of growth, but structural brain development in this period has largely not been explored longitudinally. Such assessment may be key in detecting and treating the earliest signs of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Child development, Developmental biology, Nervous system, Developmental neuroscience, Autism, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Postnatal, Neural development


Longitudinal studies including brain measures acquired through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have enabled population models of human brain development, crucial for our understanding of typical development as well as neurodevelopmental disorders. Brain development in the first two decades generally involves early cortical grey matter volume (CGMV) increases followed by decreases, and monotonic increases in cerebral white matter volume (CWMV). However, inconsistencies regarding the precise developmental trajectories call into question the comparability of samples. This issue can be addressed by conducting a comprehensive study across multiple datasets from diverse populations. Here, we present replicable models for gross structural brain development between childhood and adulthood (ages 8-30years) by repeating analyses in four separate longitudinal samples (391 participants; 852 scans). In addition, we address how accounting for global measures of cranial/brain size affect these developmental trajectories. First, we found evidence for continued development of both intracranial volume (ICV) and whole brain volume (WBV) through adolescence, albeit following distinct trajectories. Second, our results indicated that CGMV is at its highest in childhood, decreasing steadily through the second decade with deceleration in the third decade, while CWMV increases until mid-to-late adolescence before decelerating. Importantly, we show that accounting for cranial/brain size affects models of regional brain development, particularly with respect to sex differences. Our results increase confidence in our knowledge of the pattern of brain changes during adolescence, reduce concerns about discrepancies across samples, and suggest some best practices for statistical control of cranial volume and brain size in future studies.

Concepts: Human brain, Developmental neuroscience, Adolescence, Developmental biology, Nervous system, Cerebral cortex, Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging


Axon pathfinding is orchestrated by numerous guidance cues, including Slits and their Robo receptors, but it remains unclear how information from multiple cues is integrated or filtered. Robo3, a Robo family member, allows commissural axons to reach and cross the spinal cord midline by antagonizing Robo1/2-mediated repulsion from midline-expressed Slits and potentiating deleted in colorectal cancer (DCC)-mediated midline attraction to Netrin-1, but without binding either Slits or Netrins. We identified a secreted Robo3 ligand, neural epidermal growth factor-like-like 2 (NELL2), which repels mouse commissural axons through Robo3 and helps steer them to the midline. These findings identify NELL2 as an axon guidance cue and establish Robo3 as a multifunctional regulator of pathfinding that simultaneously mediates NELL2 repulsion, inhibits Slit repulsion, and facilitates Netrin attraction to achieve a common guidance purpose.

Concepts: Developmental neuroscience, Neuron, Axon, Netrin, Axon guidance


The presence/absence of Intellectual Disability (ID) is considered to be the most critical factor affecting outcomes in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, the question of the specific nature of ID in ASD has received little attention, with the current view being that ID is a comorbid condition (i.e., one that is unrelated in etiology and causality from the ASD itself). Recent advances in developmental neuroscience, highlighting the importance of early exposure to social experiences for cognitive development, support an alternative view; that ID in ASD might emerge as a consequence of severe social-communication deficits on the experience-dependent mechanisms underlying neurocognitive development. We tested this prediction in two independent samples of young children with ASD (Ns = 23 and 60), finding that children with greater ASD severity at an initial assessment were more likely to present with poorer cognitive outcomes at a later assessment, irrespective of initial cognitive level. The results of this proof of principle study suggest that ASD symptom severity contributes to the extent to which the environmental input required to support “typical” brain development can be processed by the individual, so that the risk of developing ID increases as the number and severity of ASD social-communicative impairments increase.

Concepts: Cognition, Developmental biology, Developmental neuroscience, Cognitive psychology, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Neural development, Neuroscience, Autism


Prenatal adverse environments, such as maternal stress, toxicological exposures, and viral infections, can disrupt normal brain development and contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders, including schizophrenia, depression, and autism. Increasing evidence shows that these short- and long-term effects of prenatal exposures on brain structure and function are mediated by epigenetic mechanisms. Animal studies demonstrate that prenatal exposure to stress, toxins, viral mimetics, and drugs induces lasting epigenetic changes in the brain, including genes encoding glucocorticoid receptor (Nr3c1) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (Bdnf). These epigenetic changes have been linked to changes in brain gene expression, stress reactivity, and behavior, and often times, these effects are shown to be dependent on the gestational window of exposure, sex, and exposure level. Although evidence from human studies is more limited, gestational exposure to environmental risks in humans is associated with epigenetic changes in peripheral tissues, and future studies are required to understand whether we can use peripheral biomarkers to predict neurobehavioral outcomes. An extensive research effort combining well-designed human and animal studies, with comprehensive epigenomic analyses of peripheral and brain tissues over time, will be necessary to improve our understanding of the epigenetic basis of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Embryo, Developmental neuroscience, Nervous system, Psychology, Gene expression, Autism, Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, Epigenetics


SOX11 is a transcription factor proposed to play a role in brain development. The relevance of SOX11 to human developmental disorders was suggested by a recent report of SOX11 mutations in two patients with Coffin-Siris syndrome. Here we further investigate the role of SOX11 variants in neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Psychology, Developmental neuroscience, Autism, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Child development, Neural development, Developmental biology


Multiple epidemiological studies suggest a relationship between advanced paternal age (APA) at conception and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in offspring, particularly with regard to increased risk for autism and schizophrenia. Conclusive evidence about how age-related changes in paternal gametes, or age-independent behavioral traits affect neural development is still lacking. Recent evidence suggests that the origins of APA effects are likely to be multidimensional, involving both inherited predisposition and de novo events. Here we provide a review of the epidemiological and molecular findings to date. Focusing on the latter, we present the evidence for genetic and epigenetic mechanisms underpinning the association between late fatherhood and disorder in offspring. We also discuss the limitations of the APA literature. We propose that different hypotheses relating to the origins of the APA effects are not mutually exclusive. Instead, multiple mechanisms likely contribute, reflecting the etiological complexity of neurodevelopmental disorders.

Concepts: Neuroscience, Mental disorder, Psychology, Developmental neuroscience, Nervous system, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Neural development, Autism


Axon guidance is proposed to act through a combination of long- and short-range attractive and repulsive cues. The ligand-receptor pair, Netrin (Net) and Frazzled (Fra) (DCC, Deleted in Colorectal Cancer, in vertebrates), is recognized as the prototypical effector of chemoattraction, with roles in both long- and short-range guidance. In the Drosophila visual system, R8 photoreceptor growth cones were shown to require Net-Fra to reach their target, the peak of a Net gradient. Using live imaging, we show, however, that R8 growth cones reach and recognize their target without Net, Fra, or Trim9, a conserved binding partner of Fra, but do not remain attached to it. Thus, despite the graded ligand distribution along the guidance path, Net-Fra is not used for chemoattraction. Based on findings in other systems, we propose that adhesion to substrate-bound Net underlies both long- and short-range Net-Fra-dependent guidance in vivo, thereby eroding the distinction between them.

Concepts: Nervous system, Retina, Rod cell, Developmental neuroscience, Axon, Growth cone, Photoreceptor cell, Axon guidance


BACKGROUND: Understanding the genetic basis of diseases is key to the development of better diagnoses and treatments. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of the existing data linking genes to phenotypes is available through online public resources and, when available, it is scattered across multiple access tools.Description: Neurocarta is a knowledgebase that consolidates information on genes and phenotypes across multiple resources and allows tracking and exploring of the associations. The system enables automatic and manual curation of evidence supporting each association, as well as user-enabled entry of their own annotations. Phenotypes are recorded using controlled vocabularies such as the Disease Ontology to facilitate computational inference and linking to external data sources. The gene-to-phenotype associations are filtered by stringent criteria to focus on the annotations most likely to be relevant. Neurocarta is constantly growing and currently holds more than 30,000 lines of evidence linking over 7,000 genes to 2,000 different phenotypes. CONCLUSIONS: Neurocarta is a one-stop shop for researchers looking for candidate genes for any disorder of interest. In Neurocarta, they can review the evidence linking genes to phenotypes and filter out the evidence they’re not interested in. In addition, researchers can enter their own annotations from their experiments and analyze them in the context of existing public annotations. Neurocarta’s in-depth annotation of neurodevelopmental disorders makes it a unique resource for neuroscientists working on brain development.

Concepts: Autism, Gene, Controlled vocabulary, Developmental neuroscience, Nervous system, Neurodevelopmental disorder, Neural development, Neuroscience