Synaptic Communication Controls Neuronal Migration

Summary: Researchers have identified a new mechanism controlling the migration of neurons during brain development.

Source: Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science.

The cerebral neocortex is responsible for higher brain functions, such as conscious thought and language, in humans. In the neocortex, neurons are precisely arranged in an ordered 6-layered structure. This neocortical structure is formed by the sequential generation of billions of neurons and their migration toward the brain surface in the fetal period. “Subplate neurons” are one of the first types of neurons born in the neocortex. They work transiently during neocortical development and disappear when development is complete. However a function of subplate neurons in neuronal migration had been unknown.

Synapses are structures that connect neurons. In mature neurons, synapses are critical for allowing neurons to communicate with each other, and this communication is essential for virtually all neuronal functions. However, a role for synapses in neuronal migration during cortical development had also not been known.

In this study, the research team found that subplate neurons form transient synapses with newborn neurons, and send signals to control their migration.

“We found that a special type of neurons, subplate neurons, control migration of newborn neurons by communicating with them through synapses. We were really surprised by this since synapses are thought to be structures used by mature neurons. This is the first time that synapses have been found so early in development.” said Chiaki Ohtaka-Maruyama, PhD, a lead author of the study.

The research results was published in Science on April 20, 2018.

During neocortical development in the fetus, neurons are born deep within the brain from repeated cell divisions of neural progenitor cells. Subplate neurons are the first neurons born in the neocortex, and they form a layer called the subplate layer. After generation of subplate neurons, neural progenitors next generate enormous numbers of excitatory neurons, which then migrate en masse toward the brain surface, where they form the different layers of the neocortex. When excitatory neurons are first born, they are star-shaped, or multipolar, and migrate in a slow, meandering manner without a set direction. This type of migration is referred to as multipolar migration. However, at some point, multipolar neurons suddenly change into a spindle shape with two protrusions, and begin migrating quickly towards the brain surface in a process called locomotion or radial neuronal migration. The mechanism regulating this switch has been unknown.

Newly born neurons initially exhibit slow multipolar migration. Then, the migration mode switches to faster locomotion. This study revealed that the subplate neurons send signals via synapses to the multipolar migrating neurons, leading to conversion of their migration mode to locomotion. image is credited to Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science.

Dr. Ohtaka-Maruyama wanted to know how the massive migration of large numbers of neurons could be organized to form the precise, functional layers of the neocortex. Together with colleagues, she found that newborn neurons in mouse embryos switch from multipolar migration to locomotion at the subplate layer. From this, they hypothesized that subplate neurons could be involved in organizing neuronal migration. They found that subplate neurons actively extend processes to form transient synapses on newly born multipolar migrating neurons. Communication through these synapses is important for migration, since preventing communication prevents newborn neurons from effectively migrating. Conversely, spritzing newborn neurons with the neurotransmitter glutamate, which mimics synaptic activity, enhances radial migration. These results suggest that subplate neurons may function like organizers at a massively overcrowded time-trial race where organizers decide which racers will run at what time.

Various mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia are associated with defects in locomotion and radial migration. Thus the results from Ohtaka-Maruyama and colleagues will help in understanding the causes of these diseases. Their results will also help us understand how a massively complex structure like the human neocortex evolved.

About this neuroscience research article

Source: Chiaki Ohtaka-Maruyama – Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is credited to Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science.
Original Research: Abstract for “Synaptic transmission from subplate neurons controls radial migration of neocortical neurons” by Chiaki Ohtaka-Maruyama, Mayumi Okamoto, Kentaro Endo, Minori Oshima, Noe Kaneko1,5, Kei Yura, Haruo Okado, Takaki Miyata, and Nobuaki Maeda, in Science. Published April 20 2018.

Cite This Article

[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science “Synaptic Communication Controls Neuronal Migration.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 25 April 2018.
<>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science (2018, April 25). Synaptic Communication Controls Neuronal Migration. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved April 25, 2018 from[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Medical Science “Synaptic Communication Controls Neuronal Migration.” (accessed April 25, 2018).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]


Synaptic transmission from subplate neurons controls radial migration of neocortical neurons

The neocortex exhibits a six-layered structure that is formed by radial migration of excitatory neurons, for which the multipolar-to-bipolar transition of immature migrating multipolar neurons is required. Here, we report that subplate neurons, one of the first neuron types born in the neocortex, manage the multipolar-to-bipolar transition of migrating neurons. By histochemical, imaging, and microarray analyses on the mouse embryonic cortex, we found that subplate neurons extend neurites toward the ventricular side of the subplate and form transient glutamatergic synapses on the multipolar neurons just below the subplate. NMDAR (N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor)–mediated synaptic transmission from subplate neurons to multipolar neurons induces the multipolar-to-bipolar transition, leading to a change in migration mode from slow multipolar migration to faster radial glial-guided locomotion. Our data suggested that transient synapses formed on early immature neurons regulate radial migration.

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