Welcome to The Visible Embryo
Home-- -History-- -Bibliography- -Pregnancy Timeline- --Prescription Drugs in Pregnancy- -- Pregnancy Calculator- --Female Reproductive System- -Contact

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.

WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform

The World Health Organization (WHO) has created a new Web site to help researchers, doctors and patients obtain reliable information on high-quality clinical trials. Now you can go to one website and search all registers to identify clinical trial research underway around the world!




Pregnancy Timeline

Prescription Drug Effects on Pregnancy

Pregnancy Calculator

Female Reproductive System

Contact The Visible Embryo

News Alerts Archive

Disclaimer: The Visible Embryo web site is provided for your general information only. The information contained on this site should not be treated as a substitute for medical, legal or other professional advice. Neither is The Visible Embryo responsible or liable for the contents of any websites of third parties which are listed on this site.
Content protected under a Creative Commons License.

No dirivative works may be made or used for commercial purposes.


Pregnancy Timeline by SemestersDevelopmental TimelineFertilizationFirst TrimesterSecond TrimesterThird TrimesterFirst Thin Layer of Skin AppearsEnd of Embryonic PeriodEnd of Embryonic PeriodFemale Reproductive SystemBeginning Cerebral HemispheresA Four Chambered HeartFirst Detectable Brain WavesThe Appearance of SomitesBasic Brain Structure in PlaceHeartbeat can be detectedHeartbeat can be detectedFinger and toe prints appearFinger and toe prints appearFetal sexual organs visibleBrown fat surrounds lymphatic systemBone marrow starts making blood cellsBone marrow starts making blood cellsInner Ear Bones HardenSensory brain waves begin to activateSensory brain waves begin to activateFetal liver is producing blood cellsBrain convolutions beginBrain convolutions beginImmune system beginningWhite fat begins to be madeHead may position into pelvisWhite fat begins to be madePeriod of rapid brain growthFull TermHead may position into pelvisImmune system beginningLungs begin to produce surfactant
CLICK ON weeks 0 - 40 and follow along every 2 weeks of fetal development

Google Search artcles published since 2007

Home | Pregnancy Timeline | News Alerts |News Archive Jul 6, 2015

Researchers found that brain circuits change in the visual cortex as animals explore
the world around them, but REM sleep is required to make those changes "stick."
Image Credit: Washington State University at Spokane





REM sleep critical to young brain development

Medication was found to interfere with REM sleep which locks in skills and experiences. Analysis showed that normal vision did not develop in animals experiencing a REM sleep deficit.

Rapid eye movement - or REM sleep - in young brains actively converts waking experiences into lasting memories and abilities, says a new study from Washington State University in Spokane.

The finding, published in Science Advances, broadens our understanding of children's sleep needs and calls into question the increasing use of REM-disrupting medications — such as stimulants and antidepressants. Marcos Frank, Professor of medical sciences, said scientists have known that infant animals spend much of their early life in REM sleep, but little was understood about the actual nuts and bolts of REM's ability to change or recombine memories.

Professor Frank and his colleagues documented the effects of sleep on vision development in young animals. Providing new insights, the researchers found that brain circuits change in the visual cortex as animals explore the world around them, but that REM sleep is required to make those changes "stick."

The scientists showed that the changes are locked in by ERK, an enzyme that is activated only during REM sleep.

"REM sleep acts like the chemical developer in old-fashioned photography to make traces of experience more permanent and focused in the brain," said Frank. "Experience is fragile. These traces tend to vanish without REM sleep and the brain basically forgets what it saw."

Frank said young brains, including those of human children, go through critical periods of plasticity - or remodeling - when vision, speech, language, motor skills, social skills and other higher cognitive functions are developed. The study suggests that during these periods, REM sleep helps growing brains adjust the strength or number of their neuronal connections to match the input they receive from their environment, he said.

In the 1960s, surgeons noticed that delaying removal of congenital cataracts in children resulted in their having severe problems with double vision with an inability to align their eyes.

"The visual cortex is very sensitive to information it is receiving and there are critical periods for its development," he said. "If vision is blocked at these stages, then problems result." The study used a model based on that finding to determine the specific effects of REM sleep on vision development.

Animals had a patch placed over one eye and their brain activity was monitored both while awake and during sleep. While in REM sleep, the animals were awakened intermittently by gentle tapping on their enclosures. Control animals were only awakened during non-REM sleep. "Without REM sleep, permanent plastic changes to the visual cortex did not occur and the "extracellular signal regulated kinases" (ERK) enzymes did not activate," said Frank.

Previously, the researchers had determined that ERK works by turning neuronal genes into proteins, which solidify the brain changes.

Frank was surprised to discover brain activity patterns occurring in REM sleep that were similar to those seen when animals were awake.

"It's as if the neurons were dreaming of their waking experience," said Frank."This is the first time these similar events have been reported to occur in the developing brain during REM sleep. Up till now, there has not been strong evidence to show that waking experience reappears during REM sleep."

Frank believes REM sleep may be important for the development of other parts of the brain beyond the visual cortex as well — and may continue throughout a lifetime. "There is a lot of data accumulating that says the amount of sleep a child gets impacts his/her ability to do well in school.This study helps explain why this might be - and why we should be cautious about restricting sleep in our children. We know there are different times in a child's development when sleep needs increase - they are very high in babies but also in adolescents when brains are changing rapidly," he added.

"It is becoming more common for pediatricians to give compounds that affect brain activity earlier in life - Ritalin for attention deficit disorder, but also antidepressants and other drugs. The fact is, we have very little pre-clinical research data to tell us what these drugs are doing to developing brains over the short and long term. Almost all of these compounds can potentially suppress sleep and REM sleep in particular. REM sleep is very fragile - it can be inhibited by drugs very easily."

Marcos Frank, Professor of Medical Sciences,Washington State University in Spokane.


Rapid eye movement sleep is maximal during early life, but its function in the developing brain is unknown. We investigated the role of rapid eye movement sleep in a canonical model of developmental plasticity in vivo (ocular dominance plasticity in the cat) induced by monocular deprivation. Preventing rapid eye movement sleep after monocular deprivation reduced ocular dominance plasticity and inhibited activation of a kinase critical for this plasticity (extracellular signal–regulated kinase). Chronic single-neuron recording in freely behaving cats further revealed that cortical activity during rapid eye movement sleep resembled activity present during monocular deprivation. This corresponded to times of maximal extracellular signal–regulated kinase activation. These findings indicate that rapid eye movement sleep promotes molecular and network adaptations that consolidate waking experience in the developing brain.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Return to top of page