Tracking Human Brain Development During Gestation

Using single-cell RNA sequencing, scientists have mapped the development of the prefrontal cortex of the human brain from eight to 26 weeks of gestation.

AsianScientist (Mar. 21, 2018) – Scientist in China have tracked and characterized the development of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the human brain during the early to mid-gestational period. Their findings are published in Nature.

The PFC is a brain region that has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, facilitating decision-making and regulating social behavior. The disturbance or failure of PFC development may contribute to several cognitive deficits seen in patients with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia. Hence, there is a need for detailed knowledge on the development of the PFC.

In this study, a research group led by Professor Wang Xiaoqun form the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences applied single-cell transcriptional profiling to identify the various cell types in the developing human PFC. The researchers described the molecular features of cells in the PFC during human brain development at gestational weeks eight to 26. The data showed heterogeneity of neural progenitor cells that have the potential to proliferate and differentiate into neurons or glial cells.

Intermediate progenitor (IP) cells, which act as transit amplifying progenitor cells, play a critical role in mammalian cerebral cortex development, allowing neurons to be generated at a tremendous speed in a short period of time. The researchers found new markers of IP cells and revealed the developmental features of these cells. They also illustrated the critical stages of the proliferation, migration and maturation of excitatory neurons.

In addition, the researchers reported that they observed few interneuron progenitor cells in the early period of PFC development, and that these cells were inactively progressing through the cell cycle. This implies that interneurons may be generated locally in the developing human PFC.

The screening and characterization approach adopted in this study can serve as a blueprint for understanding human PFC development in the early and mid-gestational stages. This will allow the scientific community to systematically dissect the cellular basis and molecular regulation of PFC function in humans. The findings will also be useful for investigating the mechanisms behind neurological diseases related to the abnormal structure or dysfunction of the PFC, which could pave the way for the development of potential therapies.

The article can be found at: Zhong et al. (2018) A single-cell RNA-seq survey of the developmental landscape of the human prefrontal cortex.


Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences; Photo: Shutterstock.
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