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Front Cell Neurosci. 2015 Jul 8;9:257. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2015.00257. eCollection 2015.

Physical biology of human brain development.

Author information

1
Chair of Applied Mechanics, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Erlangen/Nuremberg Erlangen, Germany.
2
Department of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering, Stanford University Stanford, CA, USA.

Abstract

Neurodevelopment is a complex, dynamic process that involves a precisely orchestrated sequence of genetic, environmental, biochemical, and physical events. Developmental biology and genetics have shaped our understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms during neurodevelopment. Recent studies suggest that physical forces play a central role in translating these cellular mechanisms into the complex surface morphology of the human brain. However, the precise impact of neuronal differentiation, migration, and connection on the physical forces during cortical folding remains unknown. Here we review the cellular mechanisms of neurodevelopment with a view toward surface morphogenesis, pattern selection, and evolution of shape. We revisit cortical folding as the instability problem of constrained differential growth in a multi-layered system. To identify the contributing factors of differential growth, we map out the timeline of neurodevelopment in humans and highlight the cellular events associated with extreme radial and tangential expansion. We demonstrate how computational modeling of differential growth can bridge the scales-from phenomena on the cellular level toward form and function on the organ level-to make quantitative, personalized predictions. Physics-based models can quantify cortical stresses, identify critical folding conditions, rationalize pattern selection, and predict gyral wavelengths and gyrification indices. We illustrate that physical forces can explain cortical malformations as emergent properties of developmental disorders. Combining biology and physics holds promise to advance our understanding of human brain development and enable early diagnostics of cortical malformations with the ultimate goal to improve treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders including epilepsy, autism spectrum disorders, and schizophrenia.

KEYWORDS:

connectivity; cortical folding; differential growth; lissencephaly; neurodevelopment; polymicrogyria; synaptogenesis

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