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Epithelial fusion during neural tube morphogenesis


  • Supported by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, and Sparks (grants to N.D.E.G. and A.J.C.); High Impact Research Grant J-20011-73595 from the University of Malaya and High Impact Research Grant UM-MOHE E000032-20001 from the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia (to N.A-A.)


Adhesion and fusion of epithelial sheets marks the completion of many morphogenetic events during embryogenesis. Neural tube closure involves an epithelial fusion sequence in which the apposing neural folds adhere initially via cellular protrusions, proceed to a more stable union, and subsequently undergo remodeling of the epithelial structures to yield a separate neural tube roof plate and overlying nonneural ectoderm. Cellular protrusions comprise lamellipodia and filopodia, and studies in several different systems emphasize the critical role of RhoGTPases in their regulation. How epithelia establish initial adhesion is poorly understood but, in neurulation, may involve interactions between EphA receptors and their ephrinA ligands. Epithelial remodeling is spatially and temporally correlated with apoptosis in the dorsal neural tube midline, but experimental inhibition of this cell death does not prevent fusion and remodeling. A variety of molecular signaling systems have been implicated in the late events of morphogenesis, but genetic redundancy, for example among the integrins and laminins, makes identification of the critical players challenging. An improved understanding of epithelial fusion can provide insights into normal developmental processes and may also indicate the mode of origin of clinically important birth defects. Birth Defects Research (Part A), 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.