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In the developing brain, gradients are commonly used to divide neurogenic regions into distinct functional domains. In this article, we discuss the functions of morphogen and gene expression gradients in the assembly of the nervous system in the context of the development of the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is a mammal-specific region of the forebrain that functions at the top of the neural hierarchy to process and interpret sensory information, plan and organize tasks, and to control motor functions. The mature cerebral cortex is a modular structure, consisting of anatomically and functionally distinct areas. Those areas of neurons are generated from a uniform neuroepithelial sheet by two forms of gradients: graded extracellular signals and a set of transcription factor gradients operating across the field of neocortical stem cells. Fgf signaling from the rostral pole of the cerebral cortex sets up gradients of expression of transcription factors by both activating and repressing gene expression. However, in contrast to the spinal cord and the early Drosophila embryo, these gradients are not subsequently resolved into molecularly distinct domains of gene expression. Instead, graded information in stem cells is translated into discrete, region-specific gene expression in the postmitotic neuronal progeny of the stem cells.

Original publication




Journal article


Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol

Publication Date





Animals, Brain, Cerebral Cortex, Drosophila, Fibroblast Growth Factors, Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental, Mice, Models, Biological, Motor Cortex, Nervous System, Neurons, Spinal Cord, Stem Cells, Transcription Factors