Scientists find mechanism behind precise spinal cord development

June 29, 2017, The Francis Crick Institute
A normal developing spinal cord (left) showing precise patterns of gene activity (red, blue, green demarcating different types of cells). In a spinal cord in which one of the signals is disrupted (right) the accuracy of gene activity has been lost. Credit: Anna Kicheva

Scientists have uncovered how nerve cells in the spinal cord are organised in precise patterns during embryo development - a finding that could give insight into regenerative medicine.

As embryos grow and develop they need the right to end up in the right places inside forming organs. This is particularly important in the where different cell types must be accurately positioned so that circuits can assemble properly to control muscle movement. But until now the mechanism underlying nerve cell organisation in the spinal cord has remained poorly understood.

In a study published in Science, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute, the Institute of Science and Technology (Austria) and Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland) report that destined to become nerve cells in developing mouse embryos use two different signals spreading from opposite sides of the spinal cord - the back and belly side - to measure their position accurately. Based on this map, they turn into the appropriate nerve cell type. The research was funded by the European Research Council and Wellcome.

The team of biologists, physicists and engineers found that the amounts of the two signals originating from the back and belly sides of the body affect in developing . Based on this gene activity in early development, the cells turn into the appropriate nerve cell type for that position in the spinal cord.

"We've made an important step in understanding how the diverse cell types in the spinal cord of a developing embryo are organised in a precise spatial pattern. The quantitative measurements and new experimental techniques we used, as well as the combined effort of biologists, physicists and engineers were key. This allowed us to gain new insight into the exquisite accuracy of embryonic development and revealed that cells have remarkable ability of to orchestrate precise tissue development," says Anna Kicheva, Group Leader at IST Austria.

"We have shed light on the long-standing question of how developing tissues produce the right cells in the right place in the right numbers," says James Briscoe, Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute. "It's likely that similar strategies are used in other developing tissues and our findings might be relevant to these cases. In the long run this will help inform the use of stem cells in approaches such as tissue engineering and . However, there is still much more to learn and we need to continue developing these interdisciplinary collaborations to further our biological understanding."

The paper 'Decoding of position in the developing neural tube from antiparallel morphogen gradients' is published in Science.

Explore further: New study reveals how embryonic cells make spinal cord, muscle and bone

More information: "Decoding of position in the developing neural tube from antiparallel morphogen gradients" Science (2017). science.sciencemag.org/cgi/doi … 1126/science.aam5887

Related Stories

New study reveals how embryonic cells make spinal cord, muscle and bone

April 28, 2017
A study from scientists at the Francis Crick Institute, the Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Berlin and the University of Edinburgh sheds new light on the cells that form spinal cord, muscle and bone tissue in ...

Loss of spinal nerve fibers not the only cause of disability in multiple sclerosis

May 10, 2017
It is commonly thought that in MS, the loss of axons (nerve fibres) contributes to the chronic disability found in many patients. This has led to the wide use of MRI to measure the cross sectional area of the spinal cord ...

Understanding the architecture of our 'second brain'

May 19, 2017
Scientists have made an important step in understanding the organisation of nerve cells embedded within the gut that control its function - a discovery that could give insight into the origin of common gastrointestinal diseases, ...

Discovery offers new hope to repair spinal cord injuries

April 24, 2017
Scientists at the Gladstone Institutes created a special type of neuron from human stem cells that could potentially repair spinal cord injuries. These cells, called V2a interneurons, transmit signals in the spinal cord to ...

Stem cell scarring aids recovery from spinal cord injury

October 31, 2013
In a new study, researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden show that the scar tissue formed by stem cells after a spinal cord injury does not impair recovery; in fact, stem cell scarring confines the damage. The findings, ...

Neural stem cell therapies could eventually play a role in treating spinal cord injuries

May 4, 2017
Researchers in Qatar and Egypt, working with colleagues in Italy and the US, have found that injured spinal cords in rats show signs of tissue regeneration several weeks following injection with neural stem cells.

Recommended for you

Researchers unravel why people with HIV suffer from more neurologic diseases

August 20, 2018
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which the HIV virus can cause, continue to be one of the world's greatest health problems.

Fluidically linked blood-brain barrier and Organ Chips offer new method for studying effects of drugs on the brain

August 20, 2018
The human brain, with its 100 billion neurons that control every thought, word, and action, is the most complex and delicate organ in the body. Because it needs extra protection from toxins and other harmful substances, the ...

Female mice are immune to cognitive damage from space radiation

August 20, 2018
Humankind still dreams of breaking from the bounds of Earth's atmosphere and venturing to the moon, Mars and beyond. But once astronauts blast past the International Space Station, they become exposed to one of the many dangers ...

Children with brain tumors who undergo radiation less likely to recall recent events

August 20, 2018
Children with certain types of brain tumors who undergo radiation treatment are less likely to recall the specifics of events they experienced after radiation than to remember pre-treatment happenings, according to a Baylor ...

Rogue proteins may underlie some ALS and frontotemporal dementia cases, says study

August 20, 2018
ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis—is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, slowly robbing its victims of their ability to walk, talk, breathe and swallow. In a cruel twist, ...

Bilingual children who speak native language at home have higher intelligence

August 20, 2018
Children who regularly use their native language at home while growing up in a different country have higher IQs, a new study has shown.

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.