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Epilepsy Res. 1999 Sep;36(2-3):143-54.

Genes that regulate neuronal migration in the cerebral cortex.

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Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Institutes of Medicine, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Malformations of cortical development are increasingly recognized as causes of mental retardation and epilepsy. However, little is known about the molecular and biochemical signals that control the proliferation, migration, and organization of the cells involved in normal cerebral cortical development. Analysis of genes required for cortical development will help elucidate the pathogenesis of some epilepsies. In humans, two striking examples of abnormal cortical development, with varying degrees of epilepsy and mental retardation, are 'double cortex' and lissencephaly. Double cortex (DC), also known as subcortical band heterotopia, shows an abnormal band of neurons in the white matter underlying a relatively normal cortex. In pedigrees, DC often occurs in females, whereas affected males show more severe lissencephaly (XLIS), i.e. an abnormally thick cortex with decreased or absent surface convolutions. We and others have identified a novel brain specific gene, doublecortin, that is mutated in Double Cortex/X-linked lissencephaly (DC/XLIS) patients. Although the cellular function of doublecortin (DCX) is unknown, sequence analysis reveals a cytoplasmic protein with potential MAP kinase phosphorylation sites, as well as a site that is likely to be phosphorylated by c-Abl, suggesting that doublecortin functions as an intracellular signaling molecule critical for the migration of developing neurons. Interestingly, the scrambler mouse mutant demonstrates abnormal lamination with some similarity to lissencephaly and reflects a mutation in the murine homolog of the Drosophila disabled gene, mdab1, which binds c-Abl. Although a direct interaction between doublecortin and mDab1 has not been demonstrated, it is plausible that these two proteins may be part of a common signaling pathway. Therefore, abnormalities in signal transduction may be an underlying mechanism for the neuronal migration defects in DC/XLIS and the scrambler mouse, but further research is necessary to determine how such abnormalities give rise to cortical malformations and epilepsy.

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