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Development. 2004 Nov;131(22):5539-50. Epub 2004 Oct 20.

Hes genes regulate size, shape and histogenesis of the nervous system by control of the timing of neural stem cell differentiation.

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  • 1Institute for Virus Research, Kyoto University, Kyoto 606-8507, Japan.


Radial glial cells derive from neuroepithelial cells, and both cell types are identified as neural stem cells. Neural stem cells are known to change their competency over time during development: they initially undergo self-renewal only and then give rise to neurons first and glial cells later. Maintenance of neural stem cells until late stages is thus believed to be essential for generation of cells in correct numbers and diverse types, but little is known about how the timing of cell differentiation is regulated and how its deregulation influences brain organogenesis. Here, we report that inactivation of Hes1 and Hes5, known Notch effectors, and additional inactivation of Hes3 extensively accelerate cell differentiation and cause a wide range of defects in brain formation. In Hes-deficient embryos, initially formed neuroepithelial cells are not properly maintained, and radial glial cells are prematurely differentiated into neurons and depleted without generation of late-born cells. Furthermore, loss of radial glia disrupts the inner and outer barriers of the neural tube, disorganizing the histogenesis. In addition, the forebrain lacks the optic vesicles and the ganglionic eminences. Thus, Hes genes are essential for generation of brain structures of appropriate size, shape and cell arrangement by controlling the timing of cell differentiation. Our data also indicate that embryonic neural stem cells change their characters over time in the following order: Hes-independent neuroepithelial cells, transitory Hes-dependent neuroepithelial cells and Hes-dependent radial glial cells.

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