A new model of cerebral cortex development

For the first time, University of Chicago researchers, using a newly developed technique, report that a molecular mechanism involved in formation of limbs and other body structures is also used to organize the higher functions of the brain.

Specific brain functions, such as vision, touch and memory, are set out in a pattern of distinct areas in the outer layer of the brain, the cerebral cortex. Because these areas can only be seen after birth, it has been impossible until now to determine the molecular mechanisms responsible for forming them in the embryo. "We knew that signaling proteins associated with patterning other parts of the body found in the embryo cortex, but we did not have an easy way to find out what they were doing there," said Elizabeth Grove, assistant professor of neurobiology, pharmacology and physiology at the University of Chicago and principal investigator in the study. "There has been some speculation that cortical patterning depended on completely unique mechanisms."

In the September 20, 2001 edition of Science Express, the researchers report that manipulating one of these signaling proteins in the developing mouse brain causes radical changes in the cortex. Tomomi Fukuchi-Shimogori, Ph.D., research associate in neurobiology, pharmacology and physiology at the University of Chicago, and lead author of the paper, developed a microsurgical technique that allows her to insert genes into the cortex of mice while they are still in utero, about halfway through gestation. The mice are born normally and can be analyzed at any age. Fibroblast Growth Factor 8 (FGF8), a member of a family of signaling proteins involved in forming other structures in the embryo, is normally found near the front of the developing cortex. Using this technique, the researchers were able to manipulate the amount and position of this signaling protein in the embryo and look for changes in the cortical pattern much later. The researchers increased the

Contact: Jeanne Galatzer-Levy
University of Chicago Medical Center

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