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Phys Biol. 2013 Feb;10(1):016005. doi: 10.1088/1478-3975/10/1/016005. Epub 2013 Jan 28.

A cortical folding model incorporating stress-dependent growth explains gyral wavelengths and stress patterns in the developing brain.

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Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, Washington University in Saint Louis, 1 Brookings Drive, Saint Louis, MO 63105, USA.


In humans and many other mammals, the cortex (the outer layer of the brain) folds during development. The mechanics of folding are not well understood; leading explanations are either incomplete or at odds with physical measurements. We propose a mathematical model in which (i) folding is driven by tangential expansion of the cortex and (ii) deeper layers grow in response to the resulting stress. In this model the wavelength of cortical folds depends predictably on the rate of cortical growth relative to the rate of stress-induced growth. We show analytically and in simulations that faster cortical expansion leads to shorter gyral wavelengths; slower cortical expansion leads to long wavelengths or even smooth (lissencephalic) surfaces. No inner or outer (skull) constraint is needed to produce folding, but initial shape and mechanical heterogeneity influence the final shape. The proposed model predicts patterns of stress in the tissue that are consistent with experimental observations.

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