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Prog Neurobiol. 2000 Aug;61(6):611-48.

Cadherins in the central nervous system.

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Institute of Anatomy, University of Essen Medical School, Hufelandstrasse 55, Germany.


The central nervous system (CNS) is divided into diverse embryological and functional compartments. The early embryonic CNS consists of a series of transverse subdivisions (neuromeres) and longitudinal domains. These embryonic subdivisions represent histogenetic fields in which neurons are born and aggregate in distinct cell groups (brain nuclei and layers). Different subsets of these aggregates become selectively connected by nerve fiber tracts and, finally, by synapses, thus forming the neural circuits of the functional systems in the CNS. Recent work has shown that 30 or more members of the cadherin family of morphoregulatory molecules are differentially expressed in the developing and mature brain at almost all stages of development. In a regionally specific fashion, most cadherins studied to date are expressed by the embryonic subdivisions of the early embryonic brain, by developing brain nuclei, cortical layers and regions, and by fiber tracts, neural circuits and synapses. Each cadherin shows a unique expression pattern that is distinct from that of other cadherins. Experimental evidence suggests that cadherins contribute to CNS regionalization, morphogenesis and fiber tract formation, possibly by conferring preferentially homotypic adhesiveness (or other types of interactions) between the diverse structural elements of the CNS. Cadherin-mediated adhesive specificity may thus provide a molecular code for early embryonic CNS regionalization as well as for the development and maintenance of functional structures in the CNS, from embryonic subdivisions to brain nuclei, cortical layers and neural circuits, down to the level of individual synapses.

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