Driving developing brain neurons in the right direction

July 16, 2012, CORDIS
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

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

Neuroscientists suggest a model for how we gain volitional control of what we hold in our minds

January 16, 2018
Working memory is a sort of "mental sketchpad" that allows you to accomplish everyday tasks such as calling in your hungry family's takeout order and finding the bathroom you were just told "will be the third door on the ...

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.