The cerebral cortex is the brain region responsible for higher cognition including language, memory, and perception. Moreover, defects in cerebral cortex size and organization are associated with many neurodevelopmental disorders. Thus, it is critical to understand how proper cortical development is orchestrated. During embryonic development, neural stem cells undergo precise divisions to generate neurons, the functional cells of the brain. The complex cellular events required for progenitor cell division, differentiation, morphological changes, and neuronal migration require precise control of gene expression.
Gene expression is regulated at the level of transcription, when DNA’s genetic information is copied into messenger RNA, and at the level of translation when RNA is made into protein. Additionally, gene expression is fine-tuned post-transcriptionally, through splicing, stabilization of RNA, and sub-cellular localization, via RNA binding proteins and microRNAs. Post-transcriptional regulation has emerged as a major contributor to fine tune gene expression throughout cerebral cortex development.
In a new review published in WIRES Developmental Biology, Lennox et al discuss recent advances in our understanding of post-transcriptional regulation during embryonic cerebral cortex development. This review illustrates essential developmental requirements for diverse layers of mRNA metabolism, including alternative splicing, stability, localization, and translation. While focusing on in vivo studies, the authors comprehensively describe roles of trans-acting RNA binding proteins and microRNAs in cortical development. Lennox et al. further discuss established and emerging methodologies in mRNA biology, and point out examples of their applications towards an improved understanding of cortical development. Several burgeoning themes emerge including: that RNA binding proteins and microRNAs coordinate gene expression in co-regulatory networks, and that they can influence cortical development by controlling specific sub-classes of transcripts.
Kindly contributed by Debra Silver.