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Concept: Neural groove


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 tube, Neurulation, Developmental neuroscience, Neural plate, Neural folds, Neural groove


Neural tube (NT) formation in the spinal region of the mammalian embryo involves a wave of “zippering” that passes down the elongating spinal axis, uniting the neural fold tips in the dorsal midline. Failure of this closure process leads to open spina bifida, a common cause of severe neurologic disability in humans. Here, we combined a tissue-level strain-mapping workflow with laser ablation of live-imaged mouse embryos to investigate the biomechanics of mammalian spinal closure. Ablation of the zippering point at the embryonic dorsal midline causes far-reaching, rapid separation of the elevating neural folds. Strain analysis revealed tissue expansion around the zippering point after ablation, but predominant tissue constriction in the caudal and ventral neural plate zone. This zone is biomechanically coupled to the zippering point by a supracellular F-actin network, which includes an actin cable running along the neural fold tips. Pharmacologic inhibition of F-actin or laser ablation of the cable causes neural fold separation. At the most advanced somite stages, when completion of spinal closure is imminent, the cable forms a continuous ring around the neuropore, and simultaneously, a new caudal-to-rostral zippering point arises. Laser ablation of this new closure initiation point causes neural fold separation, demonstrating its biomechanical activity. Failure of spinal closure in pre-spina bifida Zic2(Ku) mutant embryos is associated with altered tissue biomechanics, as indicated by greater neuropore widening after ablation. Thus, this study identifies biomechanical coupling of the entire region of active spinal neurulation in the mouse embryo as a prerequisite for successful NT closure.

Concepts: Brain, Fetus, Embryology, Neural tube, Spina bifida, Neural plate, Neural folds, Neural groove


The dorsal midline region of the neural tube that results from closure of the neural folds is generally termed the roof plate (RP). However, this domain is highly dynamic and complex, and is first transiently inhabited by prospective neural crest (NC) cells that sequentially emigrate from the neuroepithelium. It only later becomes the definitive RP, the dorsal midline cells of the spinal cord. We previously showed that at the trunk level of the axis, prospective RP progenitors originate ventral to the premigratory NC and progressively reach the dorsal midline following NC emigration. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying the end of NC production and formation of the definitive RP remain virtually unknown.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Spinal cord, Embryology, Dynamics, Neural tube, Axis powers, Neural groove, Alar plate


Human mutations in the planar cell polarity component VANGL2 are associated with the neural tube defect spina bifida. Homozygous Vangl2 mutation in mice prevents initiation of neural tube closure, precluding analysis of its subsequent roles in neurulation. Spinal neurulation involves rostral-to-caudal ‘zippering’ until completion of closure is imminent, when a caudal-to-rostral closure point, ‘Closure 5’, arises at the caudal-most extremity of the posterior neuropore (PNP). Here, we usedGrhl3Creto delete Vangl2 in the surface ectoderm (SE) throughout neurulation and in an increasing proportion of PNP neuroepithelial cells at late neurulation stages. This deletion impaired PNP closure after the ∼25-somite stage and resulted in caudal spina bifida in 67% ofGrhl3Cre/+Vangl2Fl/Flembryos. In the dorsal SE, Vangl2 deletion diminished rostrocaudal cell body orientation, but not directional polarisation of cell divisions. In the PNP, Vangl2 disruption diminished mediolateral polarisation of apical neuroepithelial F-actin profiles and resulted in eversion of the caudal PNP. This eversion prevented elevation of the caudal PNP neural folds, which in control embryos is associated with formation of Closure 5 around the 25-somite stage. Closure 5 formation in control embryos is associated with a reduction in mechanical stress withstood at the main zippering point, as inferred from the magnitude of neural fold separation following zippering point laser ablation. This stress accommodation did not happen in Vangl2-disrupted embryos. Thus, disruption of Vangl2-dependent planar-polarised processes in the PNP neuroepithelium and SE preclude zippering point biomechanical accommodation associated with Closure 5 formation at the completion of PNP closure.

Concepts: Mutation, Chromosome, Embryology, Neural tube, Spina bifida, Developmental neuroscience, Neural plate, Neural groove


Neural tube defects (NTDs) are birth defects of the nervous system and are the second most frequent cause of birth defects worldwide. The etiology of NTDs is complicated and involves both genetic and environmental factors. CASP9 is an initiator caspase in the intrinsic apoptosis pathway, which in Casp9-/- mice has been shown to result in NTDs because of decreased apoptosis. The aim of this study was to evaluate the potential genetic contribution of the CASP9 gene in human NTDs.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Genetics, Cancer, Brain, Apoptosis, Caspase, Neural groove


Failure of neural tube closure in the early embryo causes neural tube defects including spina bifida. Spina bifida lesions predominate in the distal spine, particularly after exposure to the anticonvulsant valproic acid (VPA). How VPA specifically disturbs late stages of neural tube closure is unclear, as neurulation is usually viewed as a uniform ‘zippering’ process along the spine. We recently identified a novel closure site (“Closure 5”) which forms at the caudal extremity of the mouse posterior neuropore (PNP) when completion of closure is imminent. Here we investigated whether distal spina bifida in VPA-exposed embryos involves disruption of Closure 5. Exposure of E8.5 mouse embryos to VPA in whole embryo culture had marked embryotoxic effects, whereas toxic effects were less pronounced in more developmentally advanced (E9) embryos. Only 33% of embryos exposed to VPA from E9 to E10.5 achieved PNP closure (control=90%). Short-term (8h) VPA treatment diminished supra-cellular F-actin cables which normally run along the lateral neural folds, and prevented caudal PNP narrowing normally characteristic of Closure 5 formation. Laser ablation of Closure 5 caused rapid neuropore widening. Equivalent ablations of the caudal PNP in VPA treated embryos resulted in significantly less widening, suggesting VPA prevents formation of Closure 5 as a biomechanically active structure. Thus, VPA exposure prevents morphological and biomechanical conversion of the caudal extreme of the PNP during late spinal closure. Closure 5 facilitates neural fold apposition when completion of closure is imminent, such that its disruption in VPA-exposed embryos may lead to distal spina bifida.

Concepts: Brain, Developmental biology, Embryology, Neural tube, Spina bifida, Neural plate, Neural folds, Neural groove


Neural tube closure is an important morphogenetic event that involves dramatic reshaping of both neural and non-neural tissues. Rho GTPases are key cytoskeletal regulators involved in cell motility and in several developmental processes, and are thus expected to play pivotal roles in neurulation. Here, we discuss 2 recent studies that shed light on the roles of distinct Rho GTPases in different tissues during neurulation. RhoA plays an essential role in regulating actomyosin dynamics in the neural epithelium of the elevating neural folds, while Rac1 is required for the formation of cell protrusions in the non-neural surface ectoderm during neural fold fusion.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Animal, Embryology, Ectoderm, Neural tube, Neural plate, Neural folds, Neural groove


Frontoethmoidal meningoencephalocele is a rare congenital malformation, which occurs due to a deficiency in neural tube closure. It may present as an external mass over the nose, nasal obstruction, rhinorrhea and attacks of central nervous system infections. Herein, the authors present a 3-month-old infant with naso-ethmoidal form of frontoethmoidal meningoencephalocele, who was operated on using a newly described approach that was performed under microscope.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Developmental biology, Congenital disorder, Neural tube, Congenital, Neural groove


Neural tube defects (NTDs) are the most common congenital anomalies of the central nervous system. Prevalence of NTDs varies depending on geographic region and folic acid fortification. The main objectives of this study are to analyze the prevalences of NTDs reported to the National Registry of Congenital Anomalies of Argentina (RENAC) during the period 2009 to 2013, to compare them with data from other selected surveillance systems of the Americas, and to evaluate the impact of folic acid fortification on the prevalence of NTDs in Argentina.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Brain, Developmental biology, Folic acid, Glutamic acid, Neural tube, Neural groove


Bending of the neural plate at paired dorsolateral hinge points (DLHPs) is required for neural tube closure in the spinal region of the mouse embryo. As a step towards understanding the morphogenetic mechanism of DLHP development, we examined variations in neural plate cellular architecture and proliferation during closure. Neuroepithelial cells within the median hinge point (MHP) contain nuclei that are mainly basally located and undergo relatively slow proliferation, with a 7h cell cycle length. In contrast, cells in the dorsolateral neuroepithelium, including the DLHP, exhibit nuclei distributed throughout the apico-basal axis and undergo rapid proliferation, with a 4h cell cycle length. As the neural folds elevate, cell numbers increase to a greater extent in the dorsolateral neural plate that contacts the surface ectoderm, compared with the more ventromedial neural plate where cells contact paraxial mesoderm and notochord. This marked increase in dorsolateral cell number cannot be accounted for solely on the basis of enhanced cell proliferation in this region. We hypothesised that neuroepithelial cells may translocate in a ventral-to-dorsal direction as DLHP formation occurs, and this was confirmed by vital cell labelling in cultured embryos. The translocation of cells into the neural fold, together with its more rapid cell proliferation, leads to an increase in cell density dorsolaterally compared with the more ventromedial neural plate. These findings suggest a model in which DLHP formation may proceed through ‘buckling’ of the neuroepithelium at a dorso-ventral boundary marked by a change in cell-packing density.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Embryo, Developmental biology, Embryology, Neural tube, Neural plate, Neural folds, Neural groove