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A collaborative study between Prof Zoltán Molnár’s DPAG lab, King's College London and Imperial College London has provided the first comprehensive evidence of an association between gene expression of the early generated, largely transient cells in the embryonic cerebral cortex (known as the subplate) and developing cognitive disorders in later life.

Gene expression in developing cortex linked to autism and schizophrenia
Figure of the subplate gene network.

Subplate cells provide a transient scaffold for the developing cerebral cortex and assist in the development of cortical connectivity, effectively providing the foundation of the adult structure. Disruption to these early cells in the subplate could be the source of flaws that lead to cerebral cortical developmental disorders, such as schizophrenia and autism.

The team, led by Dr Anna Hoerder-Suabedissen, profiled gene expression in subplate layer in the developing and adult mouse brain. They found that many of the schizophrenia and autism associated genes were expressed transiently during developmental stages, providing direct evidence that cells in the subplate have disease association. As many of these genes are not expressed at later stages this study highlights the importance of developmental gene expression analysis.

The subplate zone during embryonic stages is much larger in humans than mouse, so the correlations found in this study might be even more pronounced in humans.

The study was funded by the MRC and Wellcome Trust. Please visit the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences website for the full article.