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Genetics of patterning the cerebral cortex
Date:10/13/2009

LA JOLLA, CAThe cerebral cortex, the largest and most complex component of the brain, is unique to mammals and alone has evolved human specializations. Although at first all stem cells in charge of building the cerebral cortexthe outermost layer of neurons commonly referred to as gray matterare created equal, soon they irrevocably commit to forming specific cortical regions. But how the stem cells' destiny is determined has remained an open question.

In the Oct. 11 advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report that they have identified the first genetic mechanism that determines the regional identity of progenitors tasked with generating the cerebral cortex. Their discovery reveals a critical period during which a LIM homeodomain transcription factor known as Lhx2 decides over the progenitors' regional destiny: Once the window of opportunity closes, their fate is sealed.

"These findings provide a foundation for understanding the important process of developing the distinct regions of the cerebral cortex and determining their unique properties," says Dennis O'Leary, Ph.D., a professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, who led the study.

This knowledge will also potentially help in understanding the genetic underpinnings of many neurodegenerative disorders, and provide the means to uniquely specify stem cells to repair specific parts of the brain ravaged by disease or injury.

During embryonic brain development, the stem cells that will give rise to the cerebral cortex pass through a series of tightly regulated stages: from omnipotent stem cells to cortical progenitor cells that will eventually form functionally specialized regions, such as the six-layered neocortex, the biggest and evolutionarily most recent part of the cerebral cortex, and the older three-layered olfactory cortex among others.

Early during neurogenesis, stem cell-li
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Contact: Gina Kirchweger
kirchweger@salk.edu
858-453-4100 x1340
Salk Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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