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Welcome to The Visible Embryo, a comprehensive educational resource on human development from conception to birth.

The Visible Embryo provides visual references for changes in fetal development throughout pregnancy and can be navigated via fetal development or maternal changes.

The National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development awarded Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovative Research Grants to develop The Visible Embryo. Initally designed to evaluate the internet as a teaching tool for first year medical students, The Visible Embryo is linked to over 600 educational institutions and is viewed by more than one million visitors each month.

Today, The Visible Embryo is linked to over 600 educational institutions and is viewed by more than 1 million visitors each month. The field of early embryology has grown to include the identification of the stem cell as not only critical to organogenesis in the embryo, but equally critical to organ function and repair in the adult human. The identification and understanding of genetic malfunction, inflammatory responses, and the progression in chronic disease, begins with a grounding in primary cellular and systemic functions manifested in the study of the early embryo.

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Pregnancy Timeline by SemestersFetal liver is producing blood cellsHead may position into pelvisBrain convolutions beginFull TermWhite fat begins to be madeWhite fat begins to be madeHead may position into pelvisImmune system beginningImmune system beginningPeriod of rapid brain growthBrain convolutions beginLungs begin to produce surfactantSensory brain waves begin to activateSensory brain waves begin to activateInner Ear Bones HardenBone marrow starts making blood cellsBone marrow starts making blood cellsBrown fat surrounds lymphatic systemFetal sexual organs visibleFinger and toe prints appearFinger and toe prints appearHeartbeat can be detectedHeartbeat can be detectedBasic Brain Structure in PlaceThe Appearance of SomitesFirst Detectable Brain WavesA Four Chambered HeartBeginning Cerebral HemispheresFemale Reproductive SystemEnd of Embryonic PeriodEnd of Embryonic PeriodFirst Thin Layer of Skin AppearsThird TrimesterSecond TrimesterFirst TrimesterFertilizationDevelopmental Timeline
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Home | Pregnancy Timeline | News Alerts | News Archive July 4, 2013

 
Mouse Brain

The mutated Arl13b gene has caused neurons (red, green) to form
clusters and other malformations in this mouse brain.





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Key gene's discovered for building the developing brain

Researchers have pinpointed the role of a gene known as Arl13b in guiding the formation and proper placement of neurons in the early stages of brain development.

Mutations in the gene could help explain brain malformations often seen in neurodevelopmental disorders.

"We wanted to get a better sense of how the cerebral cortex is constructed," said senior study author Eva Anton, PhD, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology and a member of the Neuroscience Center at University of North Carolina (UNC). "The cells we studied — radial glial cells — provide a scaffolding for the formation of the brain by making neurons and guiding them to where they have to go. This is the first step in the formation of functional neuronal circuitry in the brain. This study gives us new information about the mechanisms involved in that process."

The research, led by a team at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, was published June 30 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The researchers became interested in the Arl13b gene because of its expression in a part of the cell called primary cilium and its association with a rare neurological disorder known as Joubert syndrome. The syndrome is characterized by brain malformations and autism like features.

"In addition to helping us understand an important cellular mechanism involved in normal brain development, this study may offer an explanation for some of the malformations seen in Joubert syndrome patients," said Anton. Although there is no immediate clinical application for these patients, the study does help illuminate the factors behind the disease. "It shows what may have gone wrong in some of those patients that led to the malformations," said Anton.


The cerebral cortex, the brain's "gray matter," is responsible for higher-order functions such as memory and consciousness.


Like the scaffolding builders use to move people and materials during construction, radial glial cells provide an instructive matrix to create the basic structural features of the cerebral cortex. Mistakes in the formation and development of radial glial cells can translate into structural problems in the brain as it develops, said Anton.


Both mice and humans have the Arl13b gene.


The researchers generated a series of mice with mutations on the Arl13b gene at different developmental stages to track the mutations' effects on brain development. They discovered that the gene is crucial to the radial glial cells' ability to sense signals through an appendage called the primary cilium. Without this signaling capability, the radial glia were unable to organize into an instructive scaffold capable of orchestrating the orderly formation of cerebral cortex.


"The cilia in these cells play an important role in the initial setup of scaffolding. Without a functioning Arl13b gene, the cells were not able to determine polarity and formed haphazardly. As a result, they formed a malformed cerebral cortex with ectopic clusters of neurons, instead of the orderly layers of neurons with appropriate connectivity that would be expected, in the developing brain."

Eva Anton, PhD ,senior study author, professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, member of the Neuroscience Center at UNC


Co-authors include Holden Higginbotham, Jiami Guo, Yukako Yokota, Jingjun Li, Nisha Verma, Vladimir Gukkasyan and Joshua Hirt from UNC, and Nicole Umberger, Chen-Ying Su, and Tamara Caspary of Emory University.

Original press release: http://news.unchealthcare.org/news/2013/june/Arl13b