Worm study reveals the secrets of early spinal cord development

April 24, 2017

Dr. Antonio Colavita and his team discovered that two molecular pathways work together in the early development of the spinal cord. While the discovery was made in a transparent worm called C. elegans, the processes are likely the same in humans. The two pathways work together to help the embryo’s nerve cord narrow and stretch out, a process called convergent extension. In humans, problems with this process can cause birth defects in the brain or spinal cord called neural tube defects. Researchers already knew that the Planar Cell Polarity or PCP pathway was important for convergent extension, but Dr. Colavita and his team found that a pathway that includes a protein called SAX-3/Robo also plays a role. When they turned off both pathways in nematodes, they found the nerve cord stayed short and stubby instead of reaching all the way down the body. These findings published in Developmental Cell mean researchers can use nematodes to learn more about how the human nervous system develops and how the process can be disrupted.

Co-authors: Pavak K. Shah, Matthew R. Tanner, Ismar Kovacevic, Aysha Rankin, Teagan E.,Marshall, Nathaniel Noblett, Nhan Nguyen Tran, Tony Roenspies, Jeffrey Hung, Zheqian Chen, Cristina Slatculescu, Theodore J. Perkins, Zhirong Bao, Antonio Colavita

Funders: Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, National Institutes of Health, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

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