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Concept: Neural plate


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


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


Failure of neural tube closure leads to neural tube defects (NTDs), common congenital abnormalities in humans. Among the genes whose loss of function causes NTDs in mice, Grainyhead-like3 (Grhl3) is essential for spinal neural tube closure, with null mutants exhibiting fully penetrant spina bifida. During spinal neurulation Grhl3 is initially expressed in the surface (non-neural) ectoderm, subsequently in the neuroepithelial component of the neural folds and at the node-streak border, and finally in the hindgut endoderm. Here, we show that endoderm-specific knockout of Grhl3 causes late-arising spinal NTDs, preceded by increased ventral curvature of the caudal region which was shown previously to suppress closure of the spinal neural folds. This finding supports the hypothesis that diminished Grhl3 expression in the hindgut is the cause of spinal NTDs in the curly tail, carrying a hypomorphic Grhl3 allele. Complete loss of Grhl3 function produces a more severe phenotype in which closure fails earlier in neurulation, before the stage of onset of expression in the hindgut of wild-type embryos. This implicates additional tissues and NTD mechanisms in Grhl3 null embryos. Conditional knockout of Grhl3 in the neural plate and node-streak border has minimal effect on closure, suggesting that abnormal function of surface ectoderm, where Grhl3 transcripts are first detected, is primarily responsible for early failure of spinal neurulation in Grhl3 null embryos.

Concepts: Gene, Evolution, Developmental biology, Embryology, Neural tube, Spina bifida, Germ layer, Neural plate


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 crest (NC) specification comprises an early phase, initiating immature NC progenitors formation at neural plate stage, and a later phase at neural fold stage, resulting into functional premigratory NC, able to delaminate and migrate. We found that the NC Gene Regulatory Network triggers up-regulation of pfkfb4 (6-phosphofructo-2-kinase/fructose-2,6-bisphosphatase 4) during this late specification phase. As shown in previous studies, PFKFB4 controls AKT signaling in gastrulas and glycolysis rate in adult cells. Here, we focus on PFKFB4 function in NC during and after neurulation, using time-controlled or hypomorph depletions in vivo We find that PFKFB4 is essential both for specification of functional premigratory NC and for its migration. PFKFB4-depleted embryos fail activating n-cadherin and late NC specifiers, exhibit severe migration defects, resulting in craniofacial defects. AKT signaling mediates PFKFB4 function in NC late specification, while both AKT signaling and glycolysis regulate migration. These findings highlight novel and critical roles of PFKFB4 activity in later stages of NC development, wired into the NC-GRN.

Concepts: Embryo, Embryology, Regulation, Neural tube, Neurulation, Neural plate, Neural folds


Development of the central nervous system requires orchestration of morphogenetic processes which drive elevation and apposition of the neural folds and their fusion into a neural tube. The newly formed tube gives rise to the brain in anterior regions and continues to develop into the spinal cord posteriorly. Conspicuous differences between the anterior and posterior neural tube become visible already during neural tube closure (NTC). Planar cell polarity (PCP) -mediated convergent extension (CE) movements are restricted to the posterior neural plate, i.e. hindbrain and spinal cord, where they propagate neural fold apposition. The lack of CE in the anterior neural plate correlates with a much slower mode of neural fold apposition anteriorly. The morphogenetic processes driving anterior NTC have not been addressed in detail. Here, we report a novel role for the breast cancer susceptibility gene and microtubule (MT) binding protein Hmmr (Hyaluronan-mediated motility receptor, RHAMM) in anterior neurulation and forebrain development in Xenopus laevis. Loss of hmmr function resulted in a lack of telencephalic hemisphere separation, arising from defective roof plate formation, which in turn was caused by impaired neural tissue narrowing. hmmr regulated polarization of neural cells, a function which was dependent on the MT binding domains. hmmr cooperated with the core PCP component vangl2 in regulating cell polarity and neural morphogenesis. Disrupted cell polarization and elongation in hmmr and vangl2 morphants prevented radial intercalation (RI), a cell behavior essential for neural morphogenesis. Our results pinpoint a novel role of hmmr in anterior neural development and support the notion that RI is a major driving force for anterior neurulation and forebrain morphogenesis.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Developmental biology, Embryology, Neural tube, Neural plate


Primary and secondary neurulation are the two known processes that form the central neuraxis of vertebrates. Human phenotypes of neural tube defects (NTDs) mostly fall into two corresponding categories consistent with the two types of developmental sequence: primary NTD features an open skin defect, an exposed, unclosed neural plate (hence an open neural tube defect, or ONTD), and an unformed or poorly formed secondary neural tube, and secondary NTD with no skin abnormality (hence a closed NTD) and a malformed conus caudal to a well-developed primary neural tube.

Concepts: Developmental biology, Folic acid, Neural tube, Spina bifida, Neural tube defect, Anencephaly, Neurulation, Neural plate


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


Many organs form by invaginating and rolling flat epithelial cell-sheets into tubes. Invagination of the ventral midline of the neural plate forms the median hinge point (MHP), an event that elevates the neural folds and is essential for neural tube closure (NTC). MHP formation involves dynamic spatiotemporal modulations of cell shape, but how these are achieved is not understood. We show that cell cycle dependent BMP and TGFβ antagonism elicits MHP formation by dynamically regulating interactions between apical (PAR complex) and basolateral (LGL) polarity proteins. TGFβ and BMP activated receptor ®-SMADs (pSMAD2,3, pSMAD1,5,8) undergo cell cycle dependent modulations and nucleo-cytosolic shuttling along the apicobasal axis of the neural plate. Non-canonical TGFβ and BMP activity in the cytosol determines whether pSMAD2,3 or pSMAD1,5,8 associates with the tight junction (PAR complex) or with LGL, and whether cell-shape changes can occur at the MHP. Thus BMP and TGFβ interactions with polarity proteins dynamically modulate MHP formation by regulating r-SMAD competition for tight junctions and r-SMAD sequestration by LGL.

Concepts: Protein, Cell nucleus, Cell, Cell membrane, Neural tube, Tight junction, Neural plate, Neural folds