Driving developing brain neurons in the right direction

July 16, 2012
Driving developing brain neurons in the right direction
Credit: Thinkstock

One of the marvels of brain development is the mass migration of nerve cells to their functional position. European research has investigated the molecules required for their successful navigation.

Formation of the cerebral cortex during requires the migration of billions of cells from their birth position to their final destination. A motile nerve cell must have internal polarity to move in the specified direction. What is more, neurons then have to extend neurites or projections from the cell body to communicate with each other.

The key to this extraordinary feat of organisation lies in cell signalling pathways. The EU-funded Neuronal Polarity project aimed to characterise these cascades important in development. At a later stage, defective cortical architecture can be responsible for brain pathologies including microcephaly, epilepsy and schizophrenia.

Project scientists showed that in vivo the guanine triphosphatase GTPase Ras-proximate-1 (Rap 1) caused an accumulation of neurons halfway to their destination. The team used time-lapse video microscopy and immunostaining to show that the problem does not lie with motility of the neurons but in a defect in their polarity. Other evidence from motility tests in vitro and the fact that some neurons do actually make it to their destination, albeit slowly, suggest Rap 1 is important for initial polarisation of the neurons.

The transmembrane receptor N-cadherin (Ncad) also has an important function in polarising cortical neurons. Experimental data confirmed that this receptor is involved downstream from Rap 1. Overall, inhibition of Rap 1 reduces Ncad presence.

Neuronal Polarity scientists suggest that Rap 1 activity is important in migrating neurons to maintain a high level of Ncad at the for to polarise correctly.

Exactly how Ncad interacts with molecular cascades for neuron is still under investigation. The Neuronal Polarity project accumulated data on which to base a concrete research path for future investigation.

Explore further: Brain cell migration during normal development may offer insight on how cancer cells spread

Related Stories

Brain cell migration during normal development may offer insight on how cancer cells spread

April 24, 2011
By shedding new light on how cells migrate in the developing brain, researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center also may have found a new mechanism by which other types of cells, including cancer cells, travel within ...

Key regulator of nervous system development works by blocking signaling protein

April 29, 2011
Neuroepithelial stem cells, the early progenitors for much of the nervous system, need to maintain a keen sense of direction in order to properly manage replication, migration and maturation. These cells are highly polarized, ...

Recommended for you

Brain guides body much sooner than previously believed

September 25, 2017
The brain plays an active and essential role much earlier than previously thought, according to new research from Tufts University scientists which shows that long before movement or other behaviors occur, the brain of an ...

A brain system that builds confidence in what we see, hear and touch

September 25, 2017
A series of experiments at EPFL provide conclusive evidence that the brain uses a single mechanism (supramodality) to estimate confidence in different senses such as audition, touch, or vision. The study is published in the ...

Touching helps build the sexual brain

September 21, 2017
Hormones or sexual experience? Which of these is crucial for the onset of puberty? It seems that when rats are touched on their genitals, their brain changes and puberty accelerates. In a new study publishing September 21 ...

Gene immunotherapy protects against multiple sclerosis in mice

September 21, 2017
A potent and long-lasting gene immunotherapy approach prevents and reverses symptoms of multiple sclerosis in mice, according to a study published September 21st in the journal Molecular Therapy. Multiple sclerosis is an ...

Neuron types in brain are defined by gene activity shaping their communication patterns

September 21, 2017
In a major step forward in research, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today publish in Cell a discovery about the molecular-genetic basis of neuronal cell types. Neurons are the basic building blocks that ...

Highly precise wiring in the cerebral cortex

September 21, 2017
Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the cerebral cortex of mammals, where, among other things, vision, thoughts or spatial ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.