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Development. 1995 Jul;121(7):2165-76.

Tangential migration of neurons in the developing cerebral cortex.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, CA 94305, USA.


The mammalian cerebral cortex is divided into functionally distinct areas. Although radial patterns of neuronal migration have been thought to be essential for patterning these areas, direct observation of migrating cells in cortical brain slices has revealed that cells follow both radial and nonradial pathways as they travel from their sites of origin in the ventricular zone out to their destinations in the cortical plate (O'Rourke, N.A., Dailey, M.E., Smith, S.J. and McConnell, S.K. (1992) Science 258, 299-302). These findings suggested that neurons may not be confined to radial migratory pathways in vivo. Here, we have examined the patterns of neuronal migration in the intact cortex. Analysis of the orientations of [3H]thymidine-labeled migrating cells suggests that nonradial migration is equally common in brain slices and the intact cortex and that it increases during neurogenesis. Additionally, cells appear to follow nonradial trajectories at all levels of the developing cerebral wall, suggesting that tangential migration may be more prevalent than previously suspected from the imaging studies. Immunostaining with neuron-specific antibodies revealed that many tangentially migrating cells are young neurons. These results suggest that tangential migration in the intact cortex plays a pivotal role in the tangential dispersion of clonally related cells revealed by retroviral lineage studies (Walsh, C. and Cepko, C. L. (1992) Science 255, 434-440). Finally, we examined possible substrata for nonradial migration in dorsal cortical regions where the majority of glia extend radially. Using confocal and electron microscopy, we found that nonradially oriented cells run perpendicular to glial processes and make glancing contacts with them along their leading processes. Thus, if nonradial cells utilize glia as a migratory substratum they must glide across one glial fiber to another. Examination of the relationships between migratory cells and axons revealed axonal contacts with both radial and nonradial cells. These results suggest that nonradial cells use strategies and substrata for migration that differ from those employed by radial cells.

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