November 13, 2012

Watching the developing brain, scientists glean clues on neurological disorder

UNC researchers track a gene’s crucial role in orchestrating the placement of neurons in the developing brain. Their findings help unravel some of the mysteries of Joubert syndrome and other neurological disorders.

As the brain develops, each neuron must find its way to precisely the right spot to weave the intricate network of links the brain needs to function. Like the wiring in a computer, a few misplaced connections can throw off functioning for an entire segment of the brain.

A new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine reveals how some nerve cells, called interneurons, navigate during the development of the cerebral cortex. Mutations in a key gene behind this navigation system underlie a rare neurological disorder called Joubert syndrome; a condition linked with autism spectrum disorders and brain structure malformations.