Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Brain Dance

Proteins in the 'Sonic hedgehog signalling pathway' govern correct embryonic brain development

01 December 2020

Brain Dance

Your brain starts off as a tube early in development — a neural tube formed from a flat sheet of cells. When the tube doesn't close properly, defects occur that can cause infant death. Exencephaly is the most common defect in neural tube closure. Researchers now investigate neural tube closure using mice, specifically looking at those with mutations in genes encoding a signalling pathway that’s important in brain development, the Sonic hedgehog pathway. They focused on mutations that affected cells at the edges of the flat sheet that becomes the neural tube, revealing that these mice ultimately develop exencephaly. A closer look uncovered that the affected cells didn’t constrict at their tops as they should. This disrupted folding of the flat sheet of neural tissue, as captured using fluorescence microscopy of a mutant developing brain (right) compared to a normal one (left), which provides clues to the genetic and mechanical causes of exencephaly.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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