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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Human Forebrain Circuits Under Construction in a Dish

NIH-funded neuroscientists have created a 3-D window into the human brain’s budding executive hub assembling itself during a critical period in prenatal development. What’s more, they used it to discover and experimentally correct—in a petri dish—defective cell migration caused by an autism-related disorder.

Dr. Sergiu Pasca, an NIMH grantee at Stanford University, and colleagues reported on experiments with forebrain spheroids Apr. 26 online in the journal Nature.

The study advances a fast-developing “disease-in-a-dish” technology, in which cultured neurons derived from an individual’s readily accessible skin cells connect with each other to form 3-D brain organoids or “spheroids.” 

Although tiny, these replicate rudimentary circuitry that can reveal a person’s brain’s unique secrets—even from when it was still under construction.

During mid-to-late gestation, neurons migrate from deep brain structures to their appointed places and organize themselves into the key working tissue of what will become the human cortex, the outer layer of the brain and seat of higher-order mental functions. This building process is complex and especially vulnerable to genetic and environmental insults that can set the stage for autism, schizophrenia and other neurodevelopmental brain disorders.

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