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AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 2, 2018


How an Unlikely Cellular ‘Antenna’ Can Impair Brain Development

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Disruption of a neuron structure called the primary cilium leads to defects in brain development resembling those seen in neuropsychiatric disorders.


An antenna-like structure on cells, once considered a useless vestige, appears to be important for proper brain development in mammals and when impaired can cause defects in the brain’s wiring similar to what’s seen in autism, schizophrenia, and other neuropsychiatric disorders. In lab experiments, UNC School of Medicine scientists prevented these wiring defects by restoring signaling though these antenna-like structures called primary cilia.

“The primary cilium on neurons turns out to be an important conduit for brain environment signals that shape and refine the formation of circuits in the developing brain,” said study senior author Eva S. Anton, PhD, professor of cell biology and physiology and member of the UNC Neurosciences Center.

The findings help shed light on why people with cilium-related gene mutations often end up showing behaviors related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Further, this study reveals a cellular pathway through which some of the circuit changes associated with autism, schizophrenia, and other brain disorders might arise.

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